Employers failing to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Published on: Jun 24 2019

Two in three (65%) SDA members aged 15 years or older have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime.

Sexual harassment is an enormous issue in the industries where SDA members work - retail, fast food and warehousing. Recognising this the SDA partnered with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to conduct a comprehensive survey of members about their experience of sexual harassment at work.

Disturbingly, the SDA/AHRC survey shows that workers in retail and fast food are experiencing sexual harassment at even higher rates than the national workforce and at higher rates than previous surveys. This is particularly concerning given these industries are largely women and young people in their first jobs.



More than 3400 SDA members responded to the survey nationwide.

Below are some of the findings from the survey in relation to the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment experienced by our members:

  • Two in three (65%) SDA Members aged 15 years or older have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime.
  • Women (73%) are significantly more likely than men (52%) to have experienced sexual harassment over the course of their lifetime.
  • The most common forms of lifetime sexual harassment experienced by SDA Members were:
    • sexually suggestive comments or offensive jokes (43%) one in two women and nearly three in ten men,
    • intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance (40%) nearly half of the women and nearly three in ten men,
    • inappropriate staring or leering (38%) half women and one in five men,
    • inappropriate physical contact (35%) two in five women and nearly a quarter men, and
    • unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing (34%), just over two in five women and one in five men.
  • Almost three in twenty (14%) female SDA Members have experienced actual or attempted rape or sexual assault at some point in their lifetimes and nearly a quarter (24%) of them have experienced unwelcome requests or pressure for sex or other sexual acts.

One young female member, responding to the SDA/AHRC survey observed that:

'Honestly, minor sexual harassment from customers happens to me once every few shifts I'm a 22 year old female so it's just something that I have to live with, honestly It sucks Whether it's an older man staring at me from a distance, loitering around near me for no apparent reason, or just being generally strange, or someone making some sort of comment on my appearance-it's pretty much always happening. Usually it's just a matter of myself and other female employees (usually around the same age) just sticking together and speaking about it afterwards. I think management could probably make more of an effort to show that they're supportive I already know that they are, I have no doubt, but just more visibility on the issue, perhaps.'


What now

The results clearly demonstrate that employers are significantly failing to meet their legal obligations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The results also demonstrate that the current laws have drastically failed workers and require a complete overhaul.

From the survey, the SDA has made a submission to the AHRC National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces and has made a range of recommendations including:

  • Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to make it clear that employers are also liable for harassment by customers and other third-parties.
  • Prohibiting employers from making workers wear indecent or revealing clothes or engaging in marketing or advertising campaigns that make an employee feel offended, humiliated or intimidated or provoke sexual harassment by another person.
  • Working with Children Checks should be mandatory for anyone who in the course of their employment supervises or managers an employee who is a minor.

The SDA submission also includes further recommendations on gender equality, insecure work, sexual harassment using technology, addressing sexual harassment in the modelling industry, reporting and much more.

To read the full submission click here.

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