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More than half of women have been sexually harassed at work. And we rarely report it.

More than 60 per cent of women have been sexually harassed at work, according to The Australian Council of Trade Unions.

That horrific number has come out in the interim results of an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) survey which has had more than 7500 respondents since it began on September 18.

Of those who answered questions about their experience, 61 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men said they’d experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

People who took the survey reported a wide variety of harassment – everything from crude and offensive behaviour, unwanted sexual attention and contact, harassment over social media to sexual coercion, O’Neil said.

The findings show 69 per cent of those who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace had faced crude or offensive behaviour. Almost half (46 per cent) had dealt with unwanted sexual attention and 34 per cent experienced inappropriate physical contact of a sexual nature.

Eight per cent faced sexual coercion and 18 per cent had experienced sexual harassment by social media.

And these figures become even more harrowing – because less than half of survey respondents reported their harassment.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil told Mamamia the prevalence of sexual harassment is clear in the survey’s participation numbers.

“Too many Australians – particularly women – go to work facing unwanted sexual attention, comments, contact and other forms of harassment. The fact that thousands of people a month are taking part in this research shows just how much women want the rules to change.”

Power imbalances between men and women – both at work and in society – contribute to these numbers. She said people should go to work free from fear of harassment, but that was not a reality for many.

“It’s made worse by unsafe workplaces and insecure work where women are both vulnerable to harassment and less able to speak out. The evidence shows a strong connection between access to decent secure work, strong anti-discrimination rules and processes and trade union protection all make a difference in the prevention of violence and harassment at work.”

Michele O'Neil. Image: actu.org.au.
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O'Neil has previously spoken out about when she herself was sexually harassed as a 14-year-old waitress.

During the ACTU national congress in July, O'Neil told journalists her supervisor at the time would "systematically" push her into storerooms and try to touch and kiss her.

"For a while, I thought this is wrong, but I was young, it was my first job, I didn't know who to talk to about it," she said at the time.

With support from older colleagues, she told a union delegate who went to management on O'Neil's behalf and ensured her supervisor was disciplined.

O'Neil told Mamamia current complaints processes are failing people who experienced sexual harassment, so very few people believe the rules will deliver them justice.

"Many women don’t have the support, resources or time to launch a complex court case when they are being harassed, which is often what is required under current laws."

Of those who did report, 62 per cent wanted better protection from victimisation, 54 per cent wanted more information and support for those experiencing sexual harassment and 47 per cent wanted better remedies.

To provide this, the ACTU believes sexual harassment laws need to be changed.

"The workplace umpire should have the power to address sexual harassment complaints so that people who want to take action on sexual harassment aren’t faced with such a daunting and possibly re-traumatising prospect," O'Neil said.

"Sexual harassment is a workplace issue which should be able to be effectively addressed through our workplace laws.

"We also need to make sure employers are required to take proactive steps to prevent violence and harassment from happening in the first place."

Sixty four per cent of all respondents so far said they had witnessed sexual harassment at work, but two thirds did not make a formal complaint, and 40 per cent didn't tell anyone.

According to O'Neil, if you suspect or witness sexual harassment the most important thing is to respect the wishes of the person who is experiencing the harassment and to make sure that their safety is the first priority.

"A union delegate, organiser or representative who can support and take action on behalf of the person experiencing harassment, in accordance with their wishes, is usually the best option," she said.

"Letting the person know that they are not alone and will be supported makes all the difference in pursuing complaints."

The survey is still available on the ACTU's website. Final results of the survey will be revealed at the end of the month.

Tags: australian-news , news-3 , sexual-harassment
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