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Some SA workplaces 'not safe' for women to report harassment

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Not all South Australian workplaces are safe environments for women to report sexual harassment, says Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent.

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In the wake of a slew of sexual harassment and assault complaints against high profile men across the globe, Vincent is encouraging women who have experienced sexual harassment to contact her office for advice.

“Sexual harassment can have very negative effects on victims,” she told InDaily. “It reduces their self-esteem, it reduces their confidence. If it’s ongoing, it can lead to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.”

It can also have long-term implications for career progression – a point made by some women who have made complaints against celebrity gardener Don Burke this week.

Today, US television network NBC fired popular Today show host Matt Lauer after receiving a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace.

“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment.

“While it is the first complaint about his behaviour in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”

Vincent says she sees sexual harassment complaints every week, including from women whose workplaces haven’t taken them seriously.

“There’s certainly a lot of deep cultural work to be done,” she said.

“I would not say that all workplaces are safe places for women to raise this without potential consequences.

“There are workplaces where complaints are going to be dismissed and have negative consequences.

“I see those complaints in my office every week. We have a lot of work to do.”

She said while it was painful to read daily accounts of the appalling behaviour of powerful men, she believed the current spate of reporting would make workplaces safer for women in the long run.

“I am really pleased that people are now feeling they can speak out about it,” she said. “Speaking out is really opening it up for others to be open about it.”

Complaints to her office about all forms of discrimination are increasing.

“We are seeing more people who are aware of their rights and are prepared to put in a complaint – which I think is a good thing.”

She said women who are feeling unsure about how to go about tackling harassment in their workplace could call her office for advice (8207 1977), contact their union, or seek free advice from the Working Women’s Centre.

Vincent stresses, though, that workplaces have an obligation to treat harassment complaints seriously.

“If a woman reports sexual harassment in the workplace and then is victimised as a result of reporting that – that is against the law.”

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