Prevent men’s violence against women

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Why is having sex like eating chilli?

consent why sex is like chilli

So you’ve come to the end of a long year and its finally time to take a break and have some fun: it’s schoolies week. It’ll be a week full of new experiences, some crazy times, and a lot of fun.

In the haze of all that fun, it’s also important to make sure everybody is having a good time, especially when it comes to sex.

Consent is a useful tool to check in with your partner. Sometimes, it can be confusing to talk about consent, but we actually have a better idea of this than we realise.

Think of sex as like chilli. Although it is spicy and hot, not everybody wants chilli, and not all the time. If somebody doesn’t feel like chilli, it’s wrong to force them to eat it. Safety is your number one priority when having chilli; you want to feel safe within yourself and know that you are comfortable with your decision.

Tips for consent


  • Saying yes to chilli once doesn’t mean you have to keep eating it
  • It’s okay to change your mind about having chilli
  • You have to hear ‘yes’ when you ask someone if they want chilli, and it should be enthusiastic
  • Your partner can’t always agree to chilli. If your partner is drunk, they’re not able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to chilli.
  • Even if you are close with your partner and have a lot of chilli together, consent is still necessary
  • If it feels like your partner isn’t enjoying themselves, make sure to check in.

But what happens if you see somebody who seems to be going too far? This is when you have to decide for yourself where you draw the line as a bystander.

Schoolies week will have a lot of new, fun experiences, but sometimes people are uncomfortable with what’s happening and are unable to speak up. If this is happening, you can speak up yourself.

You might see a lot of behaviours that cross the line.  Such behaviours might be trying to pressure a girl into sex. It might be trying to get somebody drunk to try to have sex with them. Even asking for a phone number can go too far if they’ve already said ‘no’.

The important thing is to make sure that everybody feels comfortable and safe. If it doesn’t seem that way, say something. Make your schoolies a fun and enjoyable week for everybody!

This article was written by Youth Advisory Group members Corey McCabe and Bronte Froome in collaboration with Play Safe NSW and Unleashed.

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Tayla Harris’ bronze statue is more than a statue

Tayla Harris as a Role Model | White Ribbon Australia

On Wednesday 11 September, a bronze statue of AFLW player Tayla Harris was unveiled at Melbourne’s Federation Square. The statue depicts a photo of Harris posted on the Seven’s social media accounts in March this year, where it was swamped by misogynistic online trolls before being controversially removed by the network.

The statue has sparked debate about whether Harris, who has only played 22 games over her career, really deserves it?

There are plenty of outstanding female sportswomen who don’t have their own statues, however a key thing to remember about this statue is that this has nothing to do with Harris’ footballing ability. This statue represents a moment in time where a woman was treated as less than a man in her workplace. It signifies the beginning of a cultural shift in the attitudes towards AFL and AFLW in our community.

This shift towards respectful relationships in the workplace is something we need to encourage and support, rather than continuing to troll Harris online about whether or not she deserves a statue in her honour. Harris said herself in an interview with The Project, that the statue is about more than just achievements on field. “I haven’t necessarily done anything in footy that has warranted a bronze statue — it is absolutely the moment,”. “As the plaque in the ground next to it says ‘more than a kick’,” she said. This statue immortalises that kick and that “moment” as catalyst for cultural change and the way we perceive women in the sporting world.

Contrasting to the various other statues celebrating Australian sporting legends, Rachel Slade, NAB’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, said the statue of Ms Harris represents something distinctive. “Bronze statues typically commemorate the greatness of an individual. This statue symbolises the potential of a generation,” Ms Slade said.

Many have pointed out that Harris is not the first sporting star to have a statue built of them in representation of an iconic moment. St Kilda great, Nicky Winmar was honoured with a statue of the moment he lifted up his shirt and pointed to his skin in the face of racist abuse from Collingwood supporters at Victoria Park in 1993. This statue of Winmar was unveiled at Optus Stadium, in July 2019.

As a young woman who never had the opportunity to play AFL, I hope this statue will stand as a reminder to all the girls out there that they are worthy of the same opportunities as their brothers and male classmates. I am optimistic that it will compel our boys and men to start conversations about women’s place in AFL and how much of an asset they are to our great game. I am hopeful it encourages all the aspiring AFLW players out there to be proud to #KickLikeAGirl.

Author Zoe Alexiades is a White Ribbon Advocate and White Ribbon Youth Advisory Group (YAG) Member.

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Culture and religion in shaping attitudes to parenthood and equality

Kuranda Seyit Fatherhood Program Reference group | Ambassador | Parenting | Diversity

In addition to his involvement with White Ribbon Australia, Kuranda Seyit has done significant work in the diversity sector and for Australia’s Muslim community. White Ribbon ensures that diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our prevention programs. It’s important for us to acknowledge voices such as Kuranda’s, which provide valuable insight into parenting and respectful relationships within Australia’s Islamic community.

While these parenting guidelines have been written from an Islamic perspective, this information can be useful to anyone who has the responsibility of raising a child.

What is your involvement in White Ribbon Australia?
My name is Kuranda Seyit. I am the father of two boys, a White Ribbon Australia Ambassador and member of the White Ribbon Australia Fatherhood Reference Group. Recently I helped compile a parenting program for Muslim communities.

What has shaped your attitudes and approach to parenthood?
My culture and religion play an important role in my approach to raising my two boys. Much of our information about Islamic perspectives to fatherhood come directly from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We have information about how he lived and his family background. We also have a large body of documentation about his life’s sayings, his advice and his recorded actions as verified by his closest followers. The Prophet was first and foremost a family man. He was a leader of a nation, a statesman and a spiritual guide for thousands, but just as importantly he was a husband and a loving father. :Regardless of a person’s own culture or religion some of Islamic philosophies towards parenting can be of interest and benefit to anyone with responsibilities for raising children.

What would be your top five things you have learned as a father?
Children are born pure and innocent, their natural inclination or disposition is to be good.
Parents play a critical role in the nurturing and developing of healthy and functional children into adulthood. It is only through a child’s upbringing and exposure to behaviours that are modelled by the people around them that they learn negative behaviours.
Therefore, as parents we must be extremely consistent and careful in the way we model behaviour. If there is a problem then don’t look for the cause within the child but instead look at how you can change their environment.

Parents are guides and role models.
Children need a safe, stable and nurturing home and community to grow. Maintaining a good environment also includes giving thought and consideration to the types of people that might surround and influence them.

The essentials of upbringing are kindness and mercy.
We know that childhood play benefits the physical, emotional, cognitive and social development of a child. We also know how important physical touch such as cuddles are for infants in order to make them feel safe and loved. Physical affection and play should continue as a child grows, of course, this might change as your child gets older, but it should never stop.
When your child gets up to mischief, don’t scold or blame, instead hug or pat them reassuringly and say, ‘I forgive you, let’s fix it!’ Then explain their mistake and suggest a way to resolve it together.

Draw the line for your children, set boundaries.
Without boundaries, society would be in chaos. Children need clear boundaries to guide their behaviour, while allowing them the freedom to act and behave within them. Set rules and limits for everyone in the family (including yourself!) and take care to explain to your child why they must obey them. Children love logical reasoning, but make it simple.

Small responsibilities allow the small shoulder to make it big!
Being responsible teaches children to be independent, reliable and productive. It makes them feel they have a role in the family and society and develop a sense of belonging. Having a feeling of purpose can prevent children from misbehaving out of frustration and uselessness. It also helps us to teach children about the consequences of their actions and preparing them for the responsibility of adulthood.  Start young, find age appropriate jobs for your preschool age children and gradually increase their responsibilities over the childhood years, adding more as the child slowly heads towards maturity.

Visit here for more information on White Ribbon’s Fatherhood program.


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Youth Ambassadors Response to NCAS Youth Report: More to be Done

Ambassador Response to NCAS Youth Report | White Ribbon Australia

ANROWS recently released their ‘National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS)’ Youth Report which showed a significant improvement in young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women, since the 2013 survey. However, there are some disturbing key findings which showcased misunderstandings regarding gender equality and willingness to act when witnessing sexism and abuse[1].

We asked two of our youth Ambassadors, Fadi Aluboodi and Michael Tran, their own thoughts on youth attitudes to violence against women reflecting on the NCAS Youth Report.

1 in 3 Youth Survey | White Ribbon AustraliaQ: As White Ribbon Ambassadors, one of your primary roles is to engage with your peers to ensure more men understand the issue of men’s violence against women. In terms of awareness about the issue, what are your thoughts on the findings in the report? 

A: We think that awareness of the issue has gotten better. The issue of violence against women has been communicated more through primary prevention initiatives, news, and social media to educate youth and the general public about what is acceptable and not acceptable in an intimate relationship, as well as the importance of gender equality and maintaining respectful relationships.

Overall, the report shows that young Australians have an improved level of knowledge of the different forms that violence against women can take, than reported in 2013[2]. This indicates that Australia is on the right path towards eliminating the common attitudes and trends influencing violence against women.

We were surprised to read though that nearly one in four young people disagree that violence against women is common.  There also appears to be low awareness that controlling behaviours are a form of violence and abuse. Less than 80% among males recognise technological and financial control of the partner as forms of violence against women. One out of ten young men do not think stalking is a form of violence against women and 14% of young men do not understand that harassment by repeated emails and/or text messages is domestic violence[3].

Based on these findings, we believe that there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to eliminate domestic violence, promote gender equality and foster respectful relationships.

Q: The report showed that young men are three times more likely than young women to not be bothered if a male friend told a sexist joke[4]. Knowing how attitudes that undermine gender equality can contribute to a culture that excuses violence against women, how would you react if you heard a friend crack a sexist joke?

A: There are multiple ways in which we could approach this. Depending on the scenario, we’d pull our friend over and say something like “mate, what you said there was sexist, I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if someone said that about your mother/sister/daughter”.

Changing and challenging the stereotypes surrounding sexist jokes all starts with simple conversations. If one conversation can change the heart and mind of one individual, imagine how far society could go if we were all more conscious about the conversations we have and if we were more proactive in challenging the norms surrounding the attitudes of men towards producing sexist jokes.

Q: What would you say to other young people who are interested in getting involved in the prevention of men’s violence against women?

A: We encourage young people to get active in their communities and social groups in spreading the white ribbon message. Young people should challenge existing stereotypes, stigmas and social norms that underlie violence against women. Start a white ribbon action group, organise events and mobilise in local communities to raise awareness. Because every single conversation had, every person who joins the movement and every life saved contributes towards creating a domestic violence free future for all.


Respondents Fadi Aluboodi and Michael Tran are both White Ribbon Ambassadors engaging young people in the White Ribbon movement. Learn more about our youth engagement program.

[1] ANROWS (2019), Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women and gender equality: Findings from the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), (ANROWS Insights, Issue 01/2019). Sydney
[2] Ibid. p18
[3] Ibid. p19
[4] Ibid. p33

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The Dire Need for Self-Reflection: A response to Joe Hildebrand

Social worker, Jesse Boyd, pens his response to Joe Hildebrand’s comments regarding Courtney Herron’s violent death and the mindset of unrequired accountability and reflection.

“I don’t see how reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered” – Joe Hildebrand, May 29th 2019

Joe Hildebrand’s words are at the root of contemporary debates with the #NotAllMen faction, which, by definition intrinsically declines to engage in thoughtful reflection. We have, thankfully, now given sufferers of violence a voice, and partly, in thanks to the #MeToo movement, the conversation has now moved into the mainstream. In Australia, the establishment of organisations such as White Ribbon and OurWatch, as well as the Royal Commission into family violence, an act of retrospection in of itself are undoubtedly, huge steps forward for the incomprehensible amount of women who have been or are currently victim to abuse from their current or former partner. In the wake of yet another Melbourne woman murdered by a man, it is times like these where I believe the most fundamental and progressive action that any of us can take is to reflect on our behaviours and of those that surround us, asking the question ‘why does this keep happening and what can I do to stop it?’

In his op-ed, Hildebrand correctly states that men are more violent than women, committing many more homicides and assaults than women do. However, the contention is then followed by an inexplicable flip towards a contracted focus on the murder rates committed by men, with deliberately reductive math resulting in the assertion that only “0.0042 per cent of the male population” murder a woman over a two-year period in Australia. Hildebrand goes on to state that men commit murder despite the assurance of criminal punishment, and therefore, asking murderers to reflect upon their attitudes is a fruitless endeavour.

There are two main issues I find with this argument. Clearly, domestic violence appears in many forms other than murder; financial, social, and emotional to name a few. To reduce the issue to homicide alone is a gross misrepresentation of the issue at hand.

Secondly, Hildebrand fails to understand the cultural and societal basis of violence against women. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies1, gender inequality is a key determinant of violence against women, going beyond just economic considerations, including social norms and attitudes. Yet having said that, the World Health Organisation has found that perpetrator programs are generating significantly positive behavioural and attitudinal progressions, suggesting that reflection and intervention does have a principal role to play in shifting these behaviours2.

Reflecting on Courtney Herron's Death-min

Source: Getty Images


Hildebrand then moves on to blame the “failure of the Victorian criminal justice system” utilising the brutal murder of Jill Meagher, Aiia Maasarwe and Eurydice Dixon as evidence, whilst hastily touching on a mental health alibi for the case of Courtney Herron’s brutal murder. Following soon after, he then again makes the assertion against reflection, claiming that he doesn’t disagree or feel threatened by the idea, only that “you don’t have to stretch your mind too far to realise how absurd [reflection is]”. I would challenge Hildebrand, as well as the men and women who agree with this assertion, that some variety of fear may potentially be a contributing factor in this steadfast refusal to engage in inner contemplation.

In the tertiary segment for Hildebrand’s case for #NotAllMen and against reflection, he refers to Muslims and young African males within the framework of terrorism and gang violence. He asks, did police ask these communities to reflect on their behaviours? Well, not publicly, but the police and many other groups are indeed working with them to do so. The African community, the Muslim community and even the Catholic community are working to address the issues concerning the inexcusable actions of the marginal groups within these communities occurring. But how did this collaborative action begin? It begun with the act of reflection. It is through the act of reflection of all members inside and outside of our communities that we can begin to progressively address the vast number of factors that contribute to acts of violence. In the case of violence against women, I reiterate, social norms and attitudes need to be addressed, and as members of our society, it is a call for all of us to take time to reflect and upon doing so, act.

The closing argument in Hildebrand’s piece concerns the socio-economically disadvantaged, including the opportune twist away from homicide statistics to the more appropriate inclusion of domestic violence statistics. Yes, when looking at the data presented from police reporting only, domestic violence does occur at much higher rates among segments of this population. However, when examining referral programs statistics, rather than police reports, the rate of domestic violence may actually be just as high in affluent relationships3. This may be attributed to the reputational shame of addressing issues of domestic violence as well as greater access to income and independent means of accessing support in affluent families4 and 5. Hildebrand then briefly appears to engage in some, albeit rhetorical, reflection, as well as some common sense approaches to addressing disadvantage in our society, namely housing and health provisions. However, this again serves as a deflection. Hildebrand neglects this opportunity for reflection, and in doing so, forgoes the chance to consider the innate factors that may be contributing to the greater incidences of violence observed in both the socio-economically disadvantaged and affluent communities.

I put it to Hildebrand that when he says, “I don’t see how reflecting on myself is going to stop women from being bashed or murdered” that he is, on some level, only serving to perpetuate the underlying factors that contribute to acts of violence against of women by men through the reinforcement of the false narrative that men, or any other group for that matter, have nothing to gain from retrospective action.

#YesAllMen have a role to play in calling out the attitudes and behaviours that lead to men viewing women as lesser, and consequently, the violence against them.

From one privileged male to another, the cry for critical and intentional self-reflection is on us above all.

Author Jesse Boyd is the co-founder of BreakBoundaries, a Melbourne project working group which focuses on the prevention of violence against women. A version of this article was first published on Greenleft.


[1] Wall, L. (2014). Gender equality and violence against women: what’s the connection?. Australian Institute of Family Studies Retrieved from:

[2] Rothman, E. F., Butchart, A., Cerdá, M., & World Health Organization. (2003). Intervening with perpetrators of intimate partner violence: A global perspective. Retrieved from:

[3] Phillips, J., Muller, D., & Lorimer, C. (2015). Domestic Violence: issues and policy challenges. Parliamentary Library. Research Paper Series, 2015-16. Retrieved from:

[4] Weitzman, S. (2008). Not to people like us: Hidden abuse in upscale marriages. Basic Books. Chicago

[5] Carroll, L. (2013). ‘Shame pressures affluent women to hide domestic violence, say experts’. Sydney Morning Herald. Published: June 19, 2013. Retrieved from:

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We can do better: In response to the death of Courtney Herron

Courtney Herron | White Ribbon Australia Courtney Herron | Source: 7News

Courtney Herron was the 20th women this year to be killed in Australia1. Every week a woman in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. Yet all too often, statistics around violence against women are obscured and the larger picture goes unrecognised.

Courtney’s death was not because she was homeless. It was not because she was at a party. It was not because she was unaware of her surroundings.

It was because of a toxic culture of masculinity that marginalises women.

Initial responses from Premier Daniel Andrews and Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius were productive. Both placed the blame for the murder on men’s behaviour. Both made it clear that it was not an isolated incident.

Unfortunately, outside of a small number of officials, the wider male response has been mixed. Some men have been hostile or defensive to the notion that men’s behaviour is the problem, rejecting the idea that these statistics tell any wider story about the treatment of women.

The most common contribution from men, however, has been silence.

Countless women have spoken up after Courtney’s death, sharing their fears and anxieties and talking about how this kind of behaviour needs to stop. Yet the male response, from the inappropriate Herald Sun front page to public discussions on Facebook, has been one of minimisation and shifting responsibility, if it is discussed at all.

Men’s violence is an issue for men. We must do better in dealing with it.

By saying this, I do not mean that all men are murderers. The majority of men are not violent. But all of us could do more to counter the harmful views of women that underpin acts of violence. Not being violent ourselves is not enough to absolve us of responsibility.

All of us as men engage with the concept of what we associate with being a man every day. When people describe aggression as manly and passivity as effeminate, we propagate an image in society of what it is to be a man.

Most of the time this engagement is innocuous, but often it can be harmful, both to the man who feels the pressure to live up to these expectations and to the women who suffer under the toxic extremes of these beliefs.

Men are shaped by these expectations and pressures, but we also have the capacity to shape them ourselves. Young men especially are uniquely positioned to redefine what they associated with masculinity for the next generation.

We should do more to challenge violence against women and the toxic attitudes that underpin them, not just because we have an obligation (though we certainly do), but because we don’t want these harmful views to be associated with what it means to be masculine.

We as men can do better to call out poor behaviour by men. As we do so, we can create an image for what it is to be masculine that doesn’t rest on harmful attitudes toward women.

For Courtney, Aiia Massarwe, and more importantly, for all women whose suffering never made the front-page news.

Author is Corey McCabe, University of Melbourne student, and member of the White Ribbon Youth Advisory Group.


[1] Destroy the Joint (2019), ‘Counting Dead Women Australia 2019. We count every known death due to violence against women in Australia – 20 by May 25.’

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Casual Sexism – On and Off the Field

Sexism in Football Sports | White Ribbon Australia

On Tuesday May 7, I was impressed to see an eloquent article by Essendon footballer Zach Merrett; where he discussed the issue of gender inequality, on and off the field. The key statement that stuck with me from Merrett’s article was the following: “It was then I realised ‘playing like a girl’ was a shocking insult, but not to the boy who was copping the abuse. No, it was an insult to these two girls, who had to deal with the negative connotations around the slogan every time they played.”

His call for action and change left me feeling uplifted and positive about our game and had me thinking, AFL is really making a stand against sexism and I’m proud to be an avid AFL supporter.

Spoiler alert, it didn’t last long.

Just three days later, on May 10, in the Sydney vs. Essendon match, Sydney footballer, Dane Rampe told an umpire he “talks like a little girl” after he didn’t hear a call to play on. Yet, I’m sure you’ve heard the controversy this week regarding Rampe’s climbing the goal post, as Mark Robinson said on AFL 360, on the evening of May 16, “It’s the biggest issue in AFL this year!” Excuse me Robbo, but is a player climbing a goal post a bigger and more serious issue than casual sexism in our game?

Casual sexism needs to be called out. We need to act now and stop turning a blind eye. Comments such as these are unacceptable and I will not remain quiet. No, I will cause a fuss, I will make a stand, because all women, everywhere, deserve to be treated with the same respect and courtesy as men. Of course, this issue of casual sexism is not limited to AFL, or any sport. It happens in the workplace, we see it in popular culture, we see it in families and groups of friends.

I was pleased to see that the AFL took Rampe’s comment seriously and fined him $10,000. In saying this, I’d much prefer to see a change in culture and behaviour, rather than simply being reactionary and providing consequences for actions.

I encourage men to follow the good examples we have out there, the Zach Merretts of the world, let’s say. But more than that, I expect men to call out poor behaviour when they see it. I am sick and tired of men telling me they are a ‘good bloke’ and that they respect women. If you’re going to talk the talk, I expect you to walk the walk. Be an active bystander, ensure you are not laughing at sexist remarks or changing the subject because you feel uncomfortable standing up for what you know is right. We can’t keep shying away from conversations because they are taboo. If we don’t have these vital conversations about equality, nothing will change.

I stand with Zach. “This is about more than footy.”

Author Zoe Alexiades is a White Ribbon Advocate and White Ribbon Youth Advisory Group (YAG) Member


What is casual or everyday sexism? Learn more from this quick video below

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Once again, a young woman was attacked while making her way home. Aiia Masarwe.

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-white ribbon australia

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.

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Authors are members of White Ribbon Australia’s Youth Advisory Group (YAG). They are passionate about justice, equality and ending men’s violence against women.

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Did you know: 1 in 3 Australians have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past 5 years?

One in three Australians have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years. Let that sink in: statistically, a third of your colleagues have experienced sexual harassment at work.

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.

The survey showed that sexual harassment is widespread in Australia both inside and outside work. 72% of Australians have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, with women significantly more likely to have experienced sexual harassment than men. Concerningly, nearly a quarter of Australian women have experienced actual or attempted rape.

This broader societal issue is perpetuated in the workplace, with 1 in 3 Australians experiencing sexual harassment at work in the past five years. Women were more likely to have experienced sexual harassment at work (39%) than men (26%). For the majority of people who were sexually harassed at work this experience occurred on more than one occasion.

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 with high 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 was easier 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’s Workplace 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.

What’s next?

The results of the Fourth 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.

Author Tali Slater is our Workplace Accreditation Program Officer.

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