IWD 2019 - Top myths on sexual harassment and how to debunk them

Media releases
Topics Gender

This International Women’s Day, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) is calling on employers to stand up for safety and respect at work and stamp out sexual harassment.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in the last 12 months, 23% of women and 16% of men have experienced sexual harassment at work in Australia.

Now, DCA has released a myth-buster which challenges the common misconceptions which have allowed these sexual harassment statistics to rise despite the #MeToo movement.

The research takes on common myths around harassment like: ‘It’s just a joke’, ‘Boys will be boys’ and ‘It’s a compliment’. More importantly, it provides frameworks for action so that employees and workplaces can stand up for safety and respect at work.

DCA’s CEO Lisa Annese said, “As proud as I am of this research, I’m disappointed it even needs to exist. Sexual harassment has been unlawful in Australian workplaces since 1984 and so for well over three decades, employers have invested in policies, awareness raising, and training. But in 2018, it remains as prevalent as ever.”

Reflecting on the trope of the ‘joke’ Ms Annese said, “As Australians, our instinct often is to play it down.  To say ‘Oh come on it's just a laugh here and there’.  But it’s only a joke if it’s not at someone else’s expense. We know from research that off-colour jokes are one of the most common forms of harassment for men and women. And that’s having a big impact on people’s livelihoods and workplace productivity. In 2019, enough is enough.”

The full list of myths and facts on sexual harassment are included below.

  • Myth #1: People who get offended just can’t take a joke or are too sensitive
    • Reality: It’s not funny if it’s at someone else’s expense
  • Myth #2: It’s just boys being boys
    • Reality: Actually, boys are better than that
  • Myth #3: You should take it as a compliment
    • Reality: If it’s not welcome, it’s not a compliment
  • Myth #4: But they’re one of our top performers...
    • Reality: Lack of action now will cost more down the track
  • Myth #5: It’s all gone too far – we can’t say or do anything these days!
    • Reality: If it’s respectful, and safe, then it’s OK!
  • Myth #6: I don’t want to get involved – it’s none of my business
    • Reality: It’s everybody’s business – the standard we walk past is the standard we accept
  • Myth #7: It only happens to [straight-cis][1] women
    • Reality: It happens to people of all genders and sexual orientations
  • Myth #8: It’s mainly just senior men taking advantage of their secretaries
    • Reality: Sexual harassment is about power. And power at work isn’t just about seniority.

Contact DCA for a copy of the myth-buster. Interviews are available with various spokespeople:.

[1] What is a straight-cis woman? Cisgender is a term used to describe people who identify their gender as the same as what was assigned to them at birth (male or female). The term ‘cis’ is a Latin word meaning the same as. So a cis-woman is essentially someone who is not trans.

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