Gendered Violence and Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention Training in Victoria

Learn about the impact of gendered violence on the workplace in Victoria, and workplace sexual harassment prevention training.

Occupational health and safety issues relating to gendered violence at work are a serious concern. The purpose of this blog is to explain how gendered violence affects work in Victoria.

Do you know what work-related gendered based violence is?

Any behaviour, directed toward or affecting a person based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex, and which presents a threat to their health and safety, is considered gendered violence at work. The term refers to violence that is directed directly at a specific individual due to reasons such as: 

  • The individual is a woman
  • They identify themselves  as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or asexual 
  • They do not conform to socially prescribed gender roles and stereotypes.

Indirect experiences of gendered violence may also occur at work. It is possible for a person to experience gendered violence without being targeted specifically at them (for instance, overhearing a conversation that directly affects them) or witness violence directed at another individual. In the context of gendered violence, sexual harassment is a very common occurrence.

Gender-related violence at work can take the following forms:

  • An individual uses inappropriate sexual language with a female call centre operator.
  • An employer questions or criticises an employee’s sexual orientation or appearance.
  • A business displays pornographic posters to make female employees uncomfortable
  • A gay colleague at a neighbouring table feels threatened and excluded when people make disparaging jokes about homosexual relationships.
  • Female employees are instructed to wear short skirts to look sexy for customers.
  • A company employee receives unwanted sexually explicit text messages after work hours from another company employee.
  • A transgender woman overhears co-workers complaining about her usage of women’s restrooms.
  • An employee is sexually assaulted in a healthcare facility by a client.

Facts around work-related gender based violence in Victoria

A growing number of Australian workplaces are experiencing sexual harassment. A national survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2012 found that 21 percent of respondents had experienced workplace sexual harassment in the previous five years. In a survey conducted in Victoria, more than 60% of women reported experiencing some level of gendered violence at work and feeling at risk at work.

Females are more likely than males to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, especially when it causes ‘extreme offence’ or ‘extreme intimidation’.

  • Seventy-two percent of Australians have been sexually harassed.
  • Sexual harassment at work has affected 23% of women and 16% of men over the past 12 months.
  • The number of women who have experienced sexual harassment at work has increased to 39% and the number of men to 26% in the last five years. 
  • 45% of workers in the 18-29 age group have experienced workplace sexual harassment.  
  • One out of five (15-17 year olds) have been sexually harassed at work.
  • In 40% of workplace sexual harassment incidents, someone else witnessed it.
  • The number of people who report or complain about workplace sexual harassment is lower than one in five (17%).
  • In 69% of cases, the witness failed to intervene in workplace sexual harassment.
  • Nearly one out of five individuals who reported were labelled troublemakers (19%), were ostracised, victimised or ignored by colleagues (18%), or resigned (17%).

The risks of harm associated with gender-based violence

When a person is subjected to multiple forms of discrimination, the likelihood of experiencing gendered violence increases. The combination of factors such as gender, sexuality, migration status, disability, literacy, and disability can make a person more vulnerable. Additionally, employees with insecure employment are more likely to experience violence and sexual harassment, especially when combined with the attributes mentioned above, which are often targets of discrimination. Furthermore, these factors may also reduce the likelihood of Victorian employees reporting a violation.

Affected industries by gender-based violence

Survey results show sexual harassment is more common in information, media, telecommunications, arts and recreation services, utilities, gas, water, and waste services, and retail trade. Nonetheless, violence occurs in any industry or occupation in Victoria, and it may be less likely to be reported in some industries where it is considered normal.

Gender-based violence affects people in different ways

Depending on severity, work-related gendered violence can have different effects. In addition to causing physical injuries and illness, it can also result in psychological suffering. There are several consequences that may result from it:

  • Disconnection from others
  • A lack of confidence and withdrawal from social activities
  • An assault that results in physical injuries
  • The diagnosis of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation
  • Isolation of the social group, dislocation of the family
  • Feeling stressed
  • Loss of financial resources or economic disadvantage
  • Several diseases may be caused by stress, including cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, immune deficiencies, and gastrointestinal disorders. 

Prevention is the key to tackling workplace sexual harassment and gender based violence

Most submissions recognised a need to address the drivers of sexual harassment in the workplace and avoid only responding once harm has already been done.

For sexual harassment to be prevented, it is essential to shift social and organisational norms. Suggestions to achieve this included:

  • Increasing the number of women in the workplace and in leadership positions,
  • An employer’s explicit condemnation of sexual harassment
  • A clear statement of the employer’s complaints procedure should be included in company policies.

Increased victim-survivor participation in prevention activities leads to a cultural change. By discussing workplace sexual harassment impacts with employers, perpetrators, and the broader workplace community, we can understand and address the impacts.

Workplaces in Victoria want to make genuine changes by implementing practical tools, regularly training, and providing clear guidance

Victorian Authorities pointed out that workplace policies on sexual harassment are in place, but more work is needed to implement effective prevention strategies.

Intervention is important at an early stage

Intervention at an early stage is crucial. An effective strategy for preventing sexual harassment and gender based violence in the workplace includes using tools to identify the nature of gendered violence and harassment and its underlying causes, such as attitudes surveys conducted online. By enforcing OHS regulations, employers would be required to intervene when sexual harassment occurs.

There is a need for sexual harassment and gender based violence prevention training

It is important that employers, employees, regulators and others receive training in the prevention of sexual harassment, including identifying and responding to this issue. It is recommended that the identified training takes place during onboarding and continues regularly thereafter. It is also possible for employers to provide sexual harassment education as part of their licensing requirements or compulsory professional development, through community legal education, or through regulatory agencies.

WHS and Training Compliance Solutions offering Sexual Harassment Prevention Training to businesses across Victoria. Our company offers a wide range of training programs related to psychological health at work. A variety of learning methods are available, such as face-to-face and online facilitated training, webinars and e-learning.

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