A spike in workplace sexual assault claims in January tells the story of sleazy drunken Christmas parties taking place across Australia at an alarming rate, experts say.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s national survey from a five-year period up to last year listed social events and functions as the third most frequent location workplace sexual harassment takes place.
As a former lawyer, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the disturbing pattern of sexual assault occurring at Christmas parties was well documented.
“During my legal career, advising large employers on workplace sexual harassment, we anticipated the Christmas spike each year,” she said.
And the rate of reports is still an issue, according to Shine Lawyers employment expert Christie Toy, who says her firm braces for the sleazy stories to emerge at the start of each year.
She told news.com.au commonly victims spend the holiday break consulting with family and friends, then report the behaviour when they return to work.
“There is a tendency as well for people at the end of the year to just get through the Christmas period and then when it comes to January they either go back to work and they’re faced with the perpetrator or there’s the thought of having to go back there,” Ms Toy said.
“And that’s when the calls come through to see if anything can be done.”
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The employment law expert also said the #MeToo movement has empowered victims to make claims about incidents of sexual harassment.
“That movement really did give women who had been sexually harassed in the workplace the voice to come forward,” she said.
But Ms Toy said the tendency for victims to delay or not report the incident remained, and encouraged those who suffered workplace sexual harassment to seek legal counsel.
“There are time limitations that do apply, so that’s the most important advice,” she said.
Under Australian law, sexual harassment claims need to be made within six months of the incident taking place, Ms Toy said.
“Unfortunately with sexual harassment, the statistics in Australia are still quite high so these victims are not alone,” she said.
“They should come forward, if they can, to get that proper advice.”
Ms Jenkins implored Australians to contribute to a national inquiry into sexual harassment in workplaces, saying more needs to be done to adequately train and inform workplaces of the occurrence of harassment.
“As often as not, complaints would occur in businesses and organisations that had sexual harassment policies and training,” she said.
“In our consultations for the national inquiry, we’ve heard similar stories of the heightened risk of sexual harassment when workers socialise informally at conferences and social events.
“That is not to say good policies and training are not important. They are very important, but without committed leadership and cultural reform, they do nothing.”
The deadline for submissions to the inquiry has been extended by a month to February 28.
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