Department finds one-in-10 experience sexual harassment, but survey participation low

By Jackson Graham

November 24, 2021

Katherine Jones
Attorney-General’s Department Secretary Katherine Jones. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

A staff survey at the federal Attorney-General’s Department has flagged that one-in-10 respondents have experienced sexual harassment, but only about a quarter of the workforce participated in the survey. 

About a third of employees who had experienced sexual harassment also said they were unsatisfied with the department’s policies and procedures. 

A spokesperson for the department who confirmed the survey results after they were released through FOI last week said the anonymised findings provided “helpful insights” towards a new department sexual harassment policy. 

The survey, done in April 2021, also found 10% of respondents reported intrusive comments or jokes about their physical appearance, the same number reported offensive questions about their private life, and 5.9% reported inappropriate and unwelcome touching. 

“This is the first survey of this nature the department has conducted. Therefore, there is no comparable previous data,” the spokesperson said. 

The department will launch its new policy along with measures to address and prevent sexual harassment in early 2022.

“The new measures will embed a regular reporting function regarding complaints to ensure the department is able to monitor any increase or decrease in complaints made,” the spokesperson said. 

“The Attorney-General’s Department is committed to providing a safe working environment for our staff and takes the issue of sexual harassment very seriously.

“Each employee has an opportunity to make a complaint and have that complaint investigated. All complaints are investigated thoroughly.”

The spokeswoman highlighted “approximately 25% of staff” responded to the survey but the lack of previous data meant the department could not confirm sexual harassment might be being underreported. 

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report found in 2020 one-in-three people experienced sexual harassment, yet complaint rates had stayed around 17%. 

At a Comcare forum earlier this month, she highlighted that anonymised surveys were one of the “most valuable” mechanisms for giving employers a clearer picture of what staff were experiencing. 


How does the public sector respond to sexual harassment allegations?

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