What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 11 September 2023 – 17 September 2023

Victorian Nurse Suspended for Sexually Harassing Colleagues

A Victorian male nurse was suspended this week for a period of 8 months after sexually harassing female colleagues. Stephan Harris was found by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to have sexually harassed four women between 2015 and 2019 at a rural hospital. It was alleged that Mr Harris pinched a woman as she squatted for a group photograph. The woman stated that “after the photo was taken, I got up and someone pinched me from behind on the butt, but the grab was more towards my vagina.” The woman said that “I felt physically ill when I realised it was Steve who pinched me.” Further, Mr Harris was accused of grabbing his colleagues’ armpits, tickling them, contacting them outside of the work hours and slapping one woman. The woman said that “it was a reasonably hard slap, I think on my left butt cheek… I was stunned.” She stated that “Stephan had never done anything like that before. It was out of nowhere, completely random.” The tribunal found that his behaviour was “serious, unsolicited, unwelcome and uninvited.” While Mr Harris believed he was having fun according to his lawyers, he has since written letters of apology and “feels terrible.” However, the tribunal found that there was little evidence Mr Harris had developed insight or remorse.

Karen Andrews MP Alleges She was Sexually Harassed in Parliament House

Ms Karen Andrews MP alleged in an exclusive interview this week that a male colleague used to breathe on the back of her neck during Question Time. Further, Ms Andrews stated that she had been subjected to crude comments by the same politician. The new Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Anna Cody, stated that “it appals me that any woman, any person, would have to experience that breathing down the neck.” Further, Dr Cody stated that “there is change that needs to happen and I think there is a commitment to doing that change.” Senator Birmingham stated that “this workplace, like any other workplace, should be on of respect and safety, and it does now have proper processes in place to deal with any issues.” The former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, led an inquiry into the workplace culture at Parliament House and published the Set the Standard report in 2021. The report found that “one in three parliamentary staffers had experienced some form of sexual harassment” and that “almost 40% had experienced some form of bullying.” Dr Cody stated that the introduction of the Parliamentary Leadership Task Force was encouraging, describing that it was a “sign of hope.” Further, she said that “there is bipartisan support for change within the parliament, but there will be steps backwards as well as steps forwards.”

Actress Whelan Browne Alleges She was Sexually Harassed by Cast Member

Australian actress Christie Whelan Brown has commenced legal action against the company who had employed her on the theatre production, Rocky Horror Show. Ms Whelan Browne is alleging that she was “sexually harassed” by a cast member and additionally experienced sexual discrimination. Ms Whelan Browne has alleged that the company (Oldfield Entertainment) “unlawfully discriminated against me under the Sex Discrimination Act by subjecting me to sex discrimination, repeated sexual harassment by a fellow cast member and to victimisation when I spoke out against him.” Lawyers for Ms Whelan Browne have confirmed that the legal action arose because a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission could not be settled through conciliation. Ms Whelan Browne stated on social media that “I filed this application today with fear and anxiety, but also certain in the knowledge that it is something I must do and that I will see it through to the end.” Further, she stated that “I know that I deserved better treatment, that I deserved to feel safe and respected in my workplace.” Ms Whelan Browne said that “other women in the arts deserve better, and I won’t accept that anything less than that is ‘just the way it is.’” The allegations relate back to 2014 when she was a lead actress for the production and involve the response of Oldfield Entertainment following her complaint in 2017.

Report Reveals Violence and Sexual Harassment in Victorian Racing Industries

A recent report released by the Racing Integrity Commissioner, Sean Carroll, has found that harassment and abuse have continued unchecked within the Victorian racing industry. The report stated that the industry was filled with individuals who lived and breathed racing for generations, however this has led to an “environment where harassment, abuse and assault have taken place unchecked.” The report stated that “the dark flip side of loyalty has been a culture of silence across the industry that is underpinned by a historical and widespread, tacit discouragement of reporting.” The report found that those who raised complaints were subjected to overt retaliation. It said that “a number hold the perception that perpetrators of abuse have been protected.” Mr Carroll heard several accounts relating to physical and sexual abuse, such as rape, sexual and physical assault, humiliating initiation practices, ritualised violence, grooming and harassment. The Minister for Racing, Anthony Carbines, stated that “their voices have been heard and will drive meaningful and enduring change.” According to the report, 71 per cent of the total complaints related to the thoroughbred industry, while 19 per cent related to greyhounds and 9 per cent related to the harness racing industry. The majority of victims were male, while most were harmed under the age of 25. The Commissioner made nine recommendations, including improving reporting and response processes. He stated that “the absence of targeted wellbeing programs for stable and kennel staff, including track riders, strappers, greyhound catchers and attendants – who collectively form the vast majority of the [Victorian racing industry] workforce – is an industry shortcoming.”

Students Describe Mishandling of Sexual Harassment Complaints at University

Coalition senator Paul Scarr, Labor senator Nita Green and Greens senator Larissa Waters have released a joint Senate report which found that universities are “inconsistent and opaque in their handling of sexual assault complaints, retraumatising young women who are sometimes unable to continue their education.” The report was published on Thursday this week, finding that sexual violence was a national crisis, which led to an “unacceptable human tragedy.” The report stated that “the committee cannot over-emphasise how troubled it is by these outcomes, nor over-state how disappointed it is in the university sector’s overall response… Their responses might be generously described as inadequate but are, in some cases, outright damaged and deeply troubling.” The report calls on the Attorney-General’s department to create a “national sexual violence bench book,” with the aim of addressing myths in relation to rape and assist legal officers with responding to sexual violence. Further, the report stated that the education ministers must endeavour to train the teaching workforce to ensure that knowledge around respectful relationships is effective and consistent. Senator Scarr stated that “we heard the most disturbing evidence in relation to the failure of our university sector to appropriately respond to the issue of sexual violence on university campuses around this nation.” Senator Waters stated that “our universities should be places of learning, not rape factories.”