Why Are Women Still Being Abused In Workplaces Across The Country?

It’s 2010, so why Are Women Still Being Abused In Workplaces Across The Country?

Sexual Harassment Australia

Reprinted from Cosmopolitan October 2010 Edition

By Katherine Chatfield

Gary Pinchen is the Principal of A Whole New Approach P/L

When 25-year-old Kristy Fraser stood in front of a pack of media in august this year, she could well have been doing her job as a publicist for department store David Jones. Instead, she was announcing that she would be suing her former employers for $37 million, after alleging former CEO Mark Mclines sexually harassed her at work.

She claimed he put his hands under her clothes, touched her bra and asked her to go back to his Bondi apartment with him.

“I’m a young woman standing here today … because I said this wasn’t ok,” she said “I just want to be treated with respect.”

At the time of going to the press the case had not yet gone to court. However, regardless of the outcome, the fact that Fraser-Kirk has gone public about McInnes’ alleged behaviour is definately unusual.

Only 16 percent of woman who are sexually harassed at work take any action, says sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. This is down from 32 percent in 2003- but this doesn’t mean it now happens less, says Gary Pinchen, of industrial and discrimination workplace representatives, A Whole New Approach (AWNA). “We think sexual harassment is simply being reported less because women are worried about what it could mean for their future careers,” he says. “Victims worry that making a fuss could lose them their jobs. Although this is illegal, unfortunately, it does still happen.”

For Hazel, 29, the fear of losing her job stopped her complaining about her boss’ behaviour. “I worked in a photography studio.” She says. “My boss started to make suggestive comments about how good I’d look in front of the camera, especially if I wasn’t wearing much.  The first time it happened I just laughed it off. But he kept mentioning it. Then he started coming up behind me and whispering in my ear how sexy I looked. Id move away, but it didn’t stop him. I was scared to say anything as it was a good job and everyone thought I was lucky to be working there.”

When she started to avoid going to her work, her mum asked her what was wrong.  “I told her what has been happening and she made me resign immediately,” she says. “I was lucky enough she helped me out financially, otherwise I don’t know what I would have done. I never told anyone else in the company why I handed in my notice.”

Many women can shy away from reporting sexual harassment for the simple reason they’re unsure of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour. “If something makes you feel uncomfortable then it shouldn’t be happening,” says a spokesperson for reachout.com.au. “In many cases sexual harassment starts subtly,” adds Pinchen. “he might compliment your outfit or put a hand on your shoulder. Although these small but intimate gestures might make you feel uncomfortable, many woman don’t want to complain about something that can potentially be perceived as innocuous.”

Tara* was working as a housekeeping team leader when a male colleague first approached her. “he put his arms round me and called me sweetie’,” she says. “i felt uncomfortable but i wasn’t sure if i should say anything. It seemed like nothing.”  Some weeks later, his intentions intensified. “He’d rub my arms, brush up against my back and tell me i am gorgeous. The third time it happened i said: ‘don’t do that.’ But it didn’t make a difference.”

She complained to her female supervisor. “she told me to get over it,” she says. “the ma wasn’t Australian so she said his actions were just part of his culture and i shouldn’t make a fuss. I was upset that another woman wouldn’t back me up.” After taking her complaint to a senior manager she was sacked and given no reason for dismissal. “Unfortunately, many companies don’t like to have staff on board that pose a risk to their reputation,” says Pinchen. “If you’ve ever done anything wrong previously, that can be used as an excuse for firing someone.”

Tara, who is now in her forties, took her former company to court and in the end was awarded $5,000 compensation, but she believes she might not have had the confidence to go through with it all, had the experience happened to her in her twenties. Ideally, Pinchen would like more companies to be pulled up in front of the courts so male staff think twice about about sexually harassing colleagues. “if it does get to the stage where former employees sue their company, its often settled out of court so the company escapes with the least publicity possible,” he says “its [only] the really brave woman who take it to court and make others accountable for their actions.”

Do you feel like you have been sexually harassed by your boss or a colleague at your workplace?

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