Sexual Harrassment

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can include a wide range of behaviours that cause another person distress.

Behaviours that may be acceptable or even welcome in some situations, may be inappropriate in other circumstances.

The following are some of the forms sexual harassment can take:

–          Unwelcome comments about a person’s sex life or physical appearance.

–          Suggestive behaviour such as leering or ogling

–          Offensive hand and body gestures

–          Sexual or offensive jokes

–          Pornographic pictures or artwork

–          Unnecessary familiarity such as deliberately brushing up against a person

–          Sexual propositions or continual requests for dates

–          Obscene telephone calls

–          Obscene letters and notes

–          Unwelcome physical contact, such as patting, pinching, touching, or putting an arm around another person’s body.

–          Indecent assault or rape.

Common myths

Myth:    Sexual harassment is a new phenomenon – a sign of our times. A policy on sexual harassment will only increase the incidence.

Fact:      Sexual harassment has always occurred, but until recently the victims of it have been silent. It is only recently that women have through that they have the right to object to this behaviour. A policy provides the formal process by which people can address the problem.

Myth:    Women are really to blame. The way girls dress these days, they are asking for trouble.

Fact:      In most organisations, there is an expectation that women will dress ‘attractively.’ There is no excuse for harassment irrespective of the clothes a woman wears. (It is ridiculous to assume that men have uncontrollable sexual passions and even worse to assume that they are not responsible for their actions.) Men are also victims of sexual harassment and we rarely hear comments about the way that men dress.

Myth:    ‘Nice’ girls do not get sexually harassed.

Fact:      Research shows that women of all ages and from all walks of life are subject to sexual harassment. However, women are afraid to complain about sexual harassment for fear of being branded as ‘having asked for it.’

Myth:    It is not really sexual harassment – it is just a way of giving compliments.

Fact:      If a person feels uncomfortable with the comments being made, it is not a compliment.

Myth:    You cannot change human nature. Men and women have always been attracted to each other.

Fact:      Sexual harassment has nothing to do with attraction and genuine expressions of affection between people.

Myth:    Men cannot be sexually harassed.

Fact:      Men can be sexually harassed but women in our society mainly experience the problem.

Myth:    People who object have not got a sense of humour – this will take all the fun out of work.

Fact:      It is not funny or fun to be subjected to unwanted behaviour.

Myth:    All the females I see go along with it, so they must be enjoying it.

Fact:      Women often have different ways of expressing discomfort and denial. Men are much more likely to speak out.

Myth:    Any woman working in an all-male environment is just asking for it.

Fact:      There are an increasing number of women who are choosing careers in predominantly male environments. They choose these careers for economic reasons and because of their interest in the work involved, NOT to be sexually harassed.

Myth:    Women will use charges of sexual harassment to get back at a man with whom they are angry.

Fact:      Women have very little to gain from bringing false charges. People who complain about sexual harassment are often not believed, may be ridiculed or victimised, and may even lose their jobs. Research shows that most cases of sexual harassment are not reported as women fear the consequences they may suffer if they report it.

What about sexual harassment?

 

Sexual harassment is specifically prohibited in the Act. It includes:

–          Unsolicited and unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature.

–          Gestures, actions, remarks or comments of a sexual nature.

–          Unwelcome sexual advances.

Sexual harassment occurs in circumstances where it could be anticipated by a reasonable person that the behaviour would offend, humiliate or intimidate.

For example: the consistent badgering by a male employee of a female employee to go on a ‘date’ when she has indicated that she doesn’t want to.

Does the Act prohibit anything else?

Yes. The Act prohibits the promotion of discrimination or prohibited conduct through advertising, signs or notices.

Do employers and managers have to do anything?

The Act requires that all organisations ensure that their members, officers, agents, and employees are made aware of the types of discrimination and conduct prohibited by the Tasmanian Sex Discrimination Act 1994.

Any employer or organisation that does not do so may be liable for any contravention committed by its employees or members.

Are there any exemptions from the Act?

Yes. The Sex Discrimination Act 1994 provides for a range of exemptions. An exemption gives permission for the applicant to discriminate against a person or group for a specific reason, or in certain circumstances.

Limited and general exemptions are made for programs that promote or ensure equal opportunity outcomes, and for programs that target people who are disadvantaged or belong to special needs groups.

Gender exemptions are included in the Act to ensure the continuation of single-sex schools and to accommodate doctrinal requirements of religious organisations.

Facilities such as public toilets are exempted from discrimination on the grounds of gender, along with accommodation if it is shared by five adults or less.

Clubs may discriminate in their activities on the basis of ‘practicality’ provided that benefits are available to women and men in ‘fair and reasonable proportion.’

Competitive, gender segregated sporting activities for persons 12-years and older are exempted.

Insurance and superannuation providers can discriminate against men or women if the discrimination is based on actuarial, statistical, or other relevant data.

Businesses and service providers may apply for an exemption if they can demonstrate that the provision of special services and facilities would cause them ‘unjustifiable hardship.’

How is an exception granted?

People or organisations seeking an exemption apply in writing to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Where can I get a copy of the Act?

Copies of the Tasmanian Sex Discrimination Act 1994 are available from the Printing Authority of Tasmania, 2 Salamanca Place, Hobart 7000.

 

There are actions you can take

1.       Do Nothing

Satisfactory – harassment stops

Unsatisfactory – harassment continues, which can lead to:

–          Job/study dissatisfaction

–          Increased stress

–          Inefficiency

–          Transfer

–          Resignation

2.       Confront Harasser

–          Be assertive

–          Remember sexual harassment is unlawful

–          Seek support from another worker, student, contact person

Satisfactory – no further action required – the situation is resolved

Unsatisfactory – arrange a meeting with a contact person

3.       Go to Contact Person

–          Arrange a mutually convenient time to meet

–          Discuss confidentiality

–          Clarify events and feelings

–          Identify desired outcomes

–          Document events

–          Explore options and actions

–          Negotiate a desired outcome

Satisfactory – no further action required – the situation is resolved

Unsatisfactory – contact the Equal Opportunities Officer

4.       Contact External Agency

–          Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunities

–          State Community Services

–          Sexual Harassment Support group

–          Sexual Assault Support Service

 For more information and support, please contact Laurel House (North) on 6334 2740, Laurel House North West on 6431 9711, or email counsellors@laurelhouse.org.au