One-third of women (33%) have been sexually harassed since the age of 15 in Australia. This is despite sexual harassment being outlawed and explicitly (publicly known to be) illegal for over 30 years. The Australian Human Rights Commission undertook a national survey into sexual harassment this year and the findings were, on the whole, cause for despair. Despite the Sex Discrimination Act being law since 1984, sexual harassment remains a common experience for Australians. Not just one-third of women, but 1 in 5 Australians have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15. Perhaps, one of the most worrying findings was that only 20% of those experiencing sexual harassment report it and that, of those who do, 30% indicate that the outcome of reporting was negative.
Changing the law doesn’t change attitudes. Nor does it change understanding. Sexual harassment is not mutual flirting, not consensual interaction, not friendship. It is an abuse of power and an expression of outdated and sexist beliefs. It is a worrying indication of the potential for further violence and sexist behaviour. It is a clear indication that something is not right and that something needs to be done in response. It is a sign that it’s time to stand up and speak out.
In response to these findings, Jesse Street launched a campaign called ‘See, Hear, Speak‘ – encouraging people to know their rights and when they’ve been infringed, or outright disregarded, and to know when and how to speak out about it. It’s a simple concept:
- SEE: Know it when you SEE it. What is sexual harassment? [Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.]
- HEAR: Lets HEAR more about it. Let’s LEARN about something that’s affecting so many of us. It’s time we heard more about what’s happening to people.
- SPEAK: It’s time to SPEAK about it. What to do if you are sexually harassed. [You can lodge a complaint about sexual harassment with the AHRC or your state Equal Opportunity/Anti-Discrimination Commission. It’s your right. It’s our rights.]
See, Hear, Speak is a great summary of what needs to be done in regards to violence against women in all it’s forms. A lot needs to be done to improve the understanding and knowledge of the general public of the prevalence, persistence and preventability of violence against women. It’s happening all around us, all the time and we can all do something about that. But only if we SEE – if we know what to look for, how to spot the warning signs.
Then we need to HEAR – we need to know the facts, we need to listen to the testimony of those who’ve been affected, we need to hear what’s being done to challenge this behaviour, these attitudes, these cultures. We need to be aware of what’s happening – the good, the bad and the ugly.
And, of course, we need to SPEAK. We need to know how and when and to whom to speak out, to speak up. How to speak up for our own rights, and for those of others. How to engage in Bystander Prevention. Because we can all protest this behaviour. We can all challenge sexist, racist, discriminatory and criminal cultures. We can all be part of the shift to a safe and equal culture. In fact, this may be one of the few positive takeaways from the 2012 report by the AHRC – 51% of those who witnessed or learned about sexual harassment in the workplace (bystanders) took action to prevent or reduce harm. A bystander is a powerful person to be and knowing what to do, acting in support of the victim, speaking up may be one of the best things you ever do.
Also, check out Hollaback! – another great, international, campaign about countering sexual harassment, this time in the street, where laws don’t offer the same protection. Their concept of ‘I’ve got your back‘ is a powerful one. Knowing there’s a whole, ever increasing, international community out there who do not accept sexual harassment, who are prepared to document it and to speak out in support of each other is pretty brilliant. And reminds us that things won’t always be this way. These exploitative, unequal and unsafe cultures are dinosaurs – they won’t be around for ever, they won’t even be around all that much longer. The times are indeed a-changing. Check out their brilliant guide to being an (effective) bystander.