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Sexual harassment complaints on the rise in SA

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The number of workplace sexual harassment complaints to SA’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner has increased by almost a third in the wake of the international #MeToo movement.

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SA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent told InDaily she had seen a significant rise in sexual harassment complaints to her office.

Reports of sexual harassment in the workplace comprised 15 per cent of total complaints accepted by her office in 2017-18, up from eight per cent of complaints in 2016-17.

There were a total of 29 sexual harassment complaints accepted by the commission, up from 20 the previous year.

Workplace sexual harassment is now the second-most commonly reported complaint on the commission’s books, second to reports of disability-related discrimination, which made up 31 per cent of complaints in the past 12 months.

Vincent says the issue has gained prominence because of the #MeToo movement, which has seen dozens of prominent figures outed for predatory behaviour towards staff and co-workers since US film producer Harvey Weinstein was exposed last year.

“Sexual harassment is a workplace safety issue,” she told InDaily.

“(It is) now our number two complaint … it has always been our number four or five.

“Although we only have anecdotal evidence, I do believe that the #MeToo movement has made people more aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and that this is unacceptable and unlawful.”

Vincent urged anyone who has experienced sexual harassment to contact her office.

She said young people were particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace.

“If you’ve got young people … they may not realise that this is something they don’t have to put up with,” said Vincent.

“It has the same (level of) impact as other workplace health and safety issues do.”

She stressed that guilt must not be assumed when allegations become public – but suggested that the prominence of the issue in the public domain had improved understanding of what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment.

Describing the commission’s process, Vincent said all complaints are subject to an initial assessment, after which the complainant is asked to describe her or his experience in detail, and the accused is informed and asked to respond.

Sometimes the parties are brought together to conciliate the matter – although in cases of sexual harassment, the alleged victim does not have to meet with their accused.

The process is confidential.

Possible outcomes of a complaint to the commission include a financial settlement, the implementation of training, policy changes and apologies.

If the issue cannot be reconciled, Vincent said, she can refer the matter to the South Australian Employment Tribunal.

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