Sexual harassment at work data to be captured in national survey

Ruby Jones, ABC

 

Nikki Keating never saw the face of the man who pinned her up against the bar and sexually assaulted her while she was trying to clear empty glasses.

She was 20 years old at the time, and the Brisbane venue where she worked had a compulsory uniform of "tiny" leather shorts, knee-high socks and a low-cut transparent white blouse.

"What actually caused me a lot of problems later in life was not only did this guy touch me on the vagina, he managed — because of my uniform — to get a few fingers inside me," she said.

"That is something that is so hard to deal with, particularly because I didn't see his face."

When Nikki told her manager what had happened, he said she should feel "fortunate" that "someone got lucky" that night.

"I felt like a fool for even wanting to make a scene, but I knew that something horrific had happened," she said.

Sexual harassment and assault at work are not uncommon. The Human Rights Commission estimates it has happened to one in three Australian women.

But the Harvey Weinstein backlash triggered a global conversation about harassment and abuse.

Worldwide, 1.7 million people used the #metoo hashtag to share their stories, with politicians, sports stars, and ordinary Australians posting personal accounts and support.

Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said #metoo on its own would not "change the world", but it would help educate people about the extent of the problem.

"It is helping us better understand how common the issue of sexual harassment is," she said.

Commissioner Jenkins is about to launch a nationwide survey into sexual harassment at work, the first of its kind in five years.

She is expecting to uncover abuse across a range of industries, including in police, defence, law firms and hospitals.

"I think in the last five years there has been a realisation that despite best efforts and a lot of policies being put in place, sexual harassment has continued," she said.

"I'm really optimistic that this [survey] will give us some baseline data, and that over the next few years we are going to see real change."

Fear of disbelief stops women speaking out

Australia has had its share of high profile workplace sexual harassment claims, and Harmers Workplace Lawyers has been there for many of them.

The firm's Jenny Inness ran the landmark Rebecca Richardson vs. Oracle Corporation case, which resulted in a landmark compensation payout of $130,000.

"Certainly we saw more women coming forward in the aftermath of that case, it also had the impact of changing employer attitudes towards this area," Ms Inness said.

"It's often surprising to me, I must admit, how little some people really understand about what sexual harassment is and how that works, on a practical day-to-day level.

"So there's often a lot of training that comes out of the aftermath of some of those cases."

While high-profile wins set precedents and encourage women to come forward, the women involved can find themselves under heavy scrutiny.

That is one of the main reasons why many do not report sexual harassment at work, according to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Commissioner Jenkins said only 20 per cent of women who have been sexually harassed will make a complaint.

"We know there are actual real world consequences. We know that women's reputations are hurt. We know that our careers are affected," she said.

"I don't think the solution to reducing sexual harassment is relying on the bravery of a victim to be expected to speak out.

"I think the solution is leaders and co-workers really changing cultures in workplaces."

Nikki Keating did not take further action against her attacker, because she was worried she would not be believed.

"I was terrified to not have the support of my own employer. Of course I wasn't going to go the cops about it," she said.

In the aftermath of the assault Nikki left Brisbane, though she has stayed in hospitality and is trying to change the culture from within.

She is spearheading a zero-tolerance campaign, and about 47 venues in Melbourne have signed on to the Respect Is The Rule campaign so far.

"I love being a bartender because you get a wealth of life experience that you wouldn't otherwise get," she said.

"If I love what I do, and I love the people I work with and I love the majority of the people that I serve, then I would rather work with them and fight for their rights.

"If we know our rights and others know what's inappropriate we're not going to have a problem here. It's that simple."

 

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Volunteer on the campaign

 

Sexual harassment is a huge problem in our industry. But by coming together we can change the culture this industry and make sure we feel safe and respected when we go to work. Join dozens of other hospo workers in leading this campaign to make #RespectIsTheRule in every venue: