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Opinion: Victim blaming shows extent of harassment culture

Opinion: Victim blaming shows extent of harassment culture

victim blaming, finger pointing, blame

A comment describing the sex discrimination commissioner as an “overpaid femoNazi bureaucrat” and suggesting sexual harassment in the workplace could be solved by not employing women highlights the roadblocks to eradicating misconduct and poor behaviour.

The Human Rights Commission released a report this week that found that sexual harassment is a major problem in Australian workplaces, and it’s only getting worse.

Yet in a cutting response to the findings, a My Business reader suggested that employers should not hire women, among a list of similarly offensive measures they claimed would address the problem.

Posted anonymously, the comment reads, in full:

Just another lot of useless overpaid femoNazi bureaucrats touting for more business. The problem is easily solved and various societies have worked out various solutions.

1. Put the women in burkas; or
2. Restore the marriage bar to employment; or
3. Don't employ women; or
4. Segregate the workforce; or
5. Let women grow up, get over the vapours, and have the spirit to tell a man he is being forward or slap him for impertinence, as they used to do.

These modern women are infantile. Queen Victoria would laugh at them.

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I, for one, am shocked and appalled that such words could be uttered in modern Australia.

Telling someone to grow up does nothing to address the inappropriate behaviours, attitudes and conduct of instigators.

In the workplace, more than any other area of our lives, there are a number of factors that make it difficult, nigh on impossible, for victims to call out harassment and offensive behaviour:

  • Junior employees worrying about being dogged for the length of their career by an official complaint
  • The power dynamics of being harassed by a more senior colleague – or worse, their employer
  • The use of threats of even greater harm for telling anyone about harassment
  • Potential financial impacts from raising complaints against lucrative clients/customers
  • The mental health challenges many victims suffer, often as a direct result of their harassment/abuse

The list goes on.

Kudos to those individuals who do confront their tormentor. But it is completely understandable why many don’t.

Consider the real-world examples presented by Kate Jenkins, the sex discrimination commissioner, at the National Press Club this week:

  • A 16 year-old girl locked in a store room by her manager, who then kissed and groped her against her will
  • A similar experience by another woman who, when she did report it to HR, was met with the response “what were you wearing at the time?”
  • A law firm whose senior partner forced young female employees to watch porn
  • A man, whose harassment by a colleague started on an internal messaging system before becoming physical, who felt he would not be believed if he spoke out

The last example is particularly pertinent, as it demonstrates another core point: women are not the only victims of sexual harassment. One in four men (26 per cent) have been victimised at work within the last five years – almost as many as the number of women (39 per cent).

So laying “blame” on women, and implying they bring it on themselves, fails to address that both men and women are subject to harassment, at the hands of both men and women.

Victims cannot and should not be barred from the workplace – ever. Quarantining the sick does not stop the source of a toxic leak. Predatory behaviour is the problem, and it should be called out for being such.

The onus must be on everyone in the workplace – the business owner, senior management, employees and even customers/clients – to be responsible for their own behaviour. To remember that the workplace is a place of business and professionalism. And to continually strive for excellence and betterment.

“Grow up” is not a solution. It’s simply an insult against people who have already suffered wrongdoing.

Opinion: Victim blaming shows extent of harassment culture
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