We need a better system to prevent sexual harassment at work

We need a better system to prevent sexual harassment at work

Thursday, 28 February 2019

A diverse coalition of health professionals, legal experts, unions, sexual assault and community organisations have submitted a joint statement to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national inquiry into sexual harassment at work.

The statement, which is endorsed by over 100 organisations, calls for a range of reforms, including greater efforts to prevent sexist attitudes in the community, as well as stronger legal duties on employers and a better complaints process, to stamp out sexual harassment.

Women’s Health Victoria CEO Rita Butera said, 'Until we address sexism and gender inequality in our community, we cannot hope to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.'

The Joint statement calls for workplace regulators to play more of a critical role and address sexual harassment as a health and safety issue.

'Sexual harassment is damaging to people’s mental and physical health, it’s too common and it needs to be taken seriously as the health and safety hazard that it is. We can no longer rely on individuals to deal with sexual harassment alone,' said Melanie Schleiger, Program Manager of Equality Law at Victoria Legal Aid.

'Work health and safety agencies should help employers to create environments that discourage sexual harassment and hold them accountable when they fail to do so. Employers must be legally required to take proactive steps to prevent harassment and face penalties for failing to do so.

'At the moment even a successful complaint from a victim almost never leads to meaningful change in their workplace, that would stop future harassment from happening,' said Ms Schleiger.

ACTU President Michele O’Neil said, 'People have no faith in the existing processes to deliver justice and are afraid of negative repercussions for even engaging with them.'

Ms O’Neil said victims of sexual harassment should also have the option of taking complaints to the Fair Work Commission.

'Sexual harassment is a workplace issue and people who experience it should be able to take it up through the workplace umpire. We need access to fair, effective and efficient complaints mechanisms that support people who’ve been harassed and deliver justice.'

Karen Hogan, Convenor of CASA Forum said 'Centres Against Sexual Assault see many people, mostly women, who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Often what starts as sexual harassment can become sexual assault. Survivors need specialist, expert support to help them deal with the impact of the behaviour, to navigate relevant service systems and to access legal redress. CASAs can and do provide these services now with finite resources.'

Ms Hogan said victims need access to safe reporting tools and avenues. 'Anonymous reporting platforms have worked for some survivors of sexual assault, helping to link them to services and make choices about further action they might want to take.

'We think there needs to be a parallel national anonymous reporting platform to enable victims of sexual harassment to safely report the abuse and provide them with access to information and support,' said Ms Hogan.

More information

Read our joint statement and submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you have a media inquiry please call Senior Communications Adviser Alma Mistry on 0418 381 327 or email Alma.Mistry@vla.vic.gov.au

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