This week, Australia was rocked by a another tragic event. The brutal rape and murder of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Masarwe in Melbourne’s North. Once again, a young woman was attacked while making her way home.
Yet as shocking as Aiia’s story is, it is not an isolated incident. News stories just like hers are all too familiar and young women have been warned about them since adolescence. Stories like those of Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and murdered in June last year on her way home walking through a park, or Jill Meagher, who was attacked walking home from a pub in 2012.
But not every case of violence receives the same attention as Aiia. Every week, a woman will be killed by a current or former partner. One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed. Many of these women’s stories do not receive the same attention as Aiia’s but are just as tragic.
Young women across the country hear these stories as cautionary tales about letting your guard down. But Aiia’s story shouldn’t be part of a narrative about the importance of women being constantly on their guard. The safety of women should not depend on their constant vigilance and good luck.
Aiia Masarwe. Photo courtesy of Mamamia.
Instead, it should remind us how dire the situation currently is. Now is a moment to reflect on violence against women and how we understand it. Because violence against women is not just a problem for women, it is a problem for society, and it is time for the violent men to be held to account.
It’s important to remember that men’s violence against women is part of a spectrum. While these news stories provide particularly shocking examples of this violence, less visible harm is perpetrated against women every day. Sexual harassment, abuse and stalking happens continuously, and it often happens in silence.
Not all men are violent. Yet, that doesn’t mean those men who aren’t don’t feed into a culture that enables and encourages violent men. Even if you would never actually harm a woman, every man has witnessed a man stepping over a line. It might be a joke that goes too far, a friend that is a little too handsy, or a woman who is a little too drunk to fully consent. Excuses are no longer good enough.
All of these actions normalise a culture of disrespect and violence against women, and it has to stop. Sons cannot continue being raised on the message that it’s okay to disrespect women or that those behaviours are acceptable. It must stop because women should be able to get home at night without fearing for their lives.
All of us have seen inappropriate behaviour towards women and often stayed silent because we couldn’t find our voice. It can be a difficult thing to do. But we have to do better. Women like Aiia, Eurydice and Jill deserve better, as do the countless women who suffer violence without being shown on the news.
Making things better begins with men taking responsibility for their actions and understanding how their treatment of women can reverberate in society. It starts with deciding that we cannot continue to live in a society that consistently marginalising women. It starts with speaking up.
If you or someone you know is in need of support related to sexual assault or domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (737 732). If in danger please, call 000.
These disturbing findings come from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Fourth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. The survey provides insight into the scale and nature of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, and is particularly timely given the widespread attention the #MeToo movement has generated.
Some industries had higher rates of sexual harassment, with 81% of employees in the information, media and telecommunications industry experiencing sexual harassment in the past five years. Other industries withhigh rates included arts and recreation services; electricity, gas, water and waste services; and retail.
Workplace responses to sexual harassment
With such alarmingly high rates of sexual harassment in our workplaces, it’s imperative for workplaces to have a culture of zero tolerance of sexual harassment, and appropriate supports and procedures in place for people to report incidents. However, it seems that many workers are not comfortable reporting incidents to their management. Less than 1 in 5 people who experienced sexual harassment at work made a formal report or complaint, with most people refraining because they thought it would be seen as an overreaction or because it waseasier to keep quiet.
When people did report incidents of sexual harassment, the responses were often inappropriate. 45% of people said no changes occurred at their workplace, and in 19% of cases there were no consequences for the perpetrator. People who reported put their own careers at risk and experienced negative consequences, with 19% labelled a troublemaker, 18% ostracised, victimised or ignored by colleagues, and 17% resigned.
It is critical that workplaces respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment. The consequences of failing to do so can be significant. For example, in two cases in 2015 and 2016 employers were ordered to pay more than $300,000 to employees who experienced sexual harassment. Cases of sexual harassment are also a reputational risk for businesses, as demonstrated by many of the highly publicised #MeToo cases.
Preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace
Human resources practitioners are increasingly recognizing the importance of having robust policies and procedures in place to address sexual harassment in the workplace. With the spotlight firmly on sexual harassment, taking steps to address it is not only the ethically right thing to do, but it has also become essential business practice. There are tools available to assist businesses to address sexual harassment, such as White Ribbon’sWorkplace Accreditation Program which provides organisations with a holistic and structured approach. The Program guides workplaces to bring about cultural change to show zero tolerance for violence against women. Workplaces are equipped with the tools to assess the risk of violence (including sexual harassment) and to respond appropriately when incidents occur.
The results of theFourth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces clearly show that sexual harassment is a widespread and multifaceted issue in Australian workplaces. The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into sexual harassment which is likely to recommend actions that employers should take.
Workplaces are critical sites for preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Bringing about the cultural change required to eliminate sexual harassment is a large and difficult task, but there are tools available to assist employers such as White Ribbon’s Workplace Accreditation Program. Australia’s high rates of sexual harassment in workplaces mean we all have a responsibility to stand up, speak out and act. Including employers.