Sexual harassment ‘invisible’ in the bush

Sexual harassment ‘invisible’ in the bush

Claudia Doman

4 January 2013: Rural workplaces tend to ignore sexual harassment or blame the victims, according to new research presented recently at a University of Canberra symposium.

The study – co-authored by University of Canberra law professor Patricia Easteal AM and PhD student and ANU law lecturer Skye Saunders— reveals that a large majority of employers and employees in rural and remote Australia are inclined to deny or minimise sexual harassment in the workplace.

justice symposium

Justice Symposium II. L-R: Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker, Professor Margaret Thornton, Dr Helen Watchirs OAM, Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, Professor Patricia Easteal AM and Professor Rosalind Croucher. Photo by Michelle McAulay

“Our research confirms that the tendency to make sexual harassment invisible appears fairly widespread in rural workplaces,” Professor Easteal said. “Our most disturbing finding was that more than four-fifths of employers believed that women’s behaviour contributed to their victimisation.

“However, attitudes and behaviours varied depending on occupation, degree of rurality and gender ratios. In some mining and horticultural workplaces, for example, sexual harassment is perceived as ‘boys being boys’,” she said.

Findings are based upon 107 in-depth interviews conducted in rural and remote Australia by Ms Saunders in 2011.

This was just one of the research projects presented at the University of Canberra’s second Justice Connections symposium. The event, held on 30 November, brought together a wide range of law and justice experts, academics and students to talk about justice in its different forms.

The event’s opening and closing remarks were provided by ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker and one of the sessions was led by former High Court judge Michael Kirby AC CMG.

During his intervention, Justice Kirby quoted a recently released report which ranked Australia as the second best country to be born in today (behind Switzerland).

"It's great to be born in this country but we have to work to keep making this country fairer and safer and better human rights' observant," he said.

Hon Michael Kirby

Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG at the University of Canberra’s second ‘Justice Connections’ symposium. Photo by Michelle McAulay

Professor Easteal AM, also one of the organisers of the symposium, said the event highlighted the breadth of law and justice research by the University.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase the University of Canberra’s justice-based research that could have an impact on the legal system, such as in assisting victims of sexual assault domestic violence and sexual harassment or upgrading legislation around privacy issues,” Professor Easteal said.

Other topics debated at the symposium included whether law reform is making it easier for sexual assault victims to testify and how sentencing practices and administration could be improved in the ACT.

Australian Law Reform Commission president Rosalind Croucher, ACT Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs OAM, and Australian National University professor of law Margaret Thornton chaired the remaining sessions.

Read more information on the symposium here.