Sexual harassment is occurring across every Victorian government department, with 1,400 public sector staff saying they have experienced it in the last 12 months.
The Victorian-Auditor General’s office looked at eight departments and found not one of them was free from sexual harassment.
“No department is free from sexual harassment and while they are working to improve this, departments can still do more,” VAGO says in a report handed down this week.
Those with a self-described gender identity are most at risk of experiencing harassment, followed by young women, LGBTIQ people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people on wages of less than $75,000.
Sexual harassment covers a wide range of behavious and can include questions and comments, jokes, leering, repeated requests to go on dates, displaying offensive screensavers or objects of a sexual nature, social media posts and comments of a sexual nature in a person’s presence, even if they are not directed at that person.
The audit says as well as affecting the mental health and careers of employees, sexual harassment can reduce overall workforce moral and increase absenteeism and turnover. It can also expose departments to legal liability and be costly to investigate.
No department is free from sexual harassment – VAGO
Sexual harassment under reported
One in every 14 Victorian public sector employees surveyed by the Victorian Public Sector Commission – more than 1,400 – said they had experienced sexual harassment in a 12 month time frame, the audit says.
However less than four per cent – 3.6 per cent – said they had reported it.
The audit office found the most common types of sexual harassment included intrusive comments and questions of a sexual nature. However respondents also reported being sent sexual text messages in the middle of the night; being tickled, touched and pressed up against; and being told “the only good place for a female is in a porn movie”.
Most respondents said they responded to harassment by pretending it didn’t bother them or “laughing it off”.
The audit found that while policies and complaints channels exist within government departments, they are rarely used.
The widespread under-reporting was because victims believed their complaints weren’t serious, feared repercussions or didn’t have faith in the system to deal with it.
“Departments have adequate processes to accept complaints, but they need to do more to address under reporting of sexual harassment,” the report says.
The audit also says managers are inadequately trained in how to deal with complaints of sexual harassment, even though they are the first to hear about it, and VAGO also found delays and a lack of transparency in responses to complaints.
It says only 23 per cent of respondents had completed sexual harassment training at induction and 42 per cent said they had never received any training.
Respondents from the Department of Justice and Community Safety experienced the highest rates of sexual harassment.
The number people reporting sexual harassment in the VPSC’s 2019 People Matter Survey was down from 11 per cent in 2016, but the audit says added it was too soon to determine if it represented a trend.
The report made several recommendations including:
- Mandatory training at induction
- Specific training for managers
- Encouraging staff to report complaints
- Improving record keeping
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