"It's time to focus on known perpetrators"
Male bosses still the worst perpetrators of sexual harassment
Half of the harassment took place in business or professional workplaces — most often involving bosses harassing co-workers.
Examples include supervisors who said “while you are down there” to female juniors, or gave female co-workers gifts of underwear or sex toys. Others involved lewd emails, suggestive comments about perfume, questions about sexual history and sexual comments about other women in the office.
Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins said many men still did not recognise such behaviour as sexual harassment and still “don’t get it” after 30 years.
“When I started working in this area many years ago, the problem was more the presence of dirty magazines, nude calendars and wolf whistling in blue-collar workplaces such as factories and car yards,” she said.
“Now it seems to be more office-based, and although improvements have been made over time, there are still many incidents”.
The number of Victorian complaints to the commission has remained relatively steady over the past seven years, going from a high of 267 in 2010/11 to a low of 189 in 2012/13.
Payouts from the commission include $12,000 for the woman who resigned after receiving the lingerie and $25,000 for the woman who received numerous sexual advances including hugs, rape threats and suggestive emails. Another woman who was grabbed on the breast by a supervisor received $10,000.
However, once victims take claims to VCAT or the Federal Court, they can get payouts of up to $500,000.
Ms Jenkins said perpetrators still tend to be senior men and the victims tend to be junior women, who are often reluctant to make complaints.
She said some victims “don’t want negative repercussions or don’t think sexual harassment is a serious issue”.
“The notion is that if you want to get ahead you learn to take a joke and you don’t complain,” Ms Jenkins said.
But she said such behaviour was serious and had very negative outcomes.
“People who are the targets of sexual harassment experience higher levels of stress and illness, negative impacts on their self-esteem and overall health, financial losses and economic hardship, even forced resignation,” she said.
Recent Victorian court payouts:
Payout of $100,000 in 2013 at VCAT. A law student was sexually harassed by the principal lawyer who continually asked her for sex, made sexual comments, showed her pornographic photos and stared at her breasts.
Payout of $476,000 in 2013 in the Federal Court to a female chartered accountant. She was sexually harassed by a male contractor who made sexual advances, and made sexual comments in the office, in the street and in a taxi. She was also sexually aassaulted. Reduced on appeal to $210,000.
Payout of $446,000 in 2010 in the Federal Court. A building consultant was sent a text message by a colleague with a pornographic image and the words: “u have 2 b better”. She also received sexual requests from him and was also harassed by another co-worker.