Sydney (AFP) – Australia launched a national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment Wednesday, in a sign governments are beginning to respond to a global issue highlighted by the massive #MeToo movement.
The probe, to be conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, will look into the legal framework on sexual harassment and review complaints made to anti-discrimination agencies. It will also focus on the role of technology and social media.
It comes on the back of the online #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct that has made waves around the world and seen victims come forward to report harassment, sometimes by leading figures in industry and the arts.
“No-one should have to suffer sexual harassment at work, or in any other part of their lives,” Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer said in a statement.
O’Dwyer said the personal and career consequences of workplace sex harassment were “very significant”, citing negative impacts such as reduced productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, compensation claims and early retirement.
A similar probe is underway in the UK, but the Commission said it believed the Australian inquiry was the first to be launched in response to the #MeToo movement, and demonstrated “international leadership” on the issue.
More than 20 percent of people aged over 15 have been sexually harassed in Australia, with 68 percent of those cases in the workplace, according to the government.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said early indications from an ongoing Australian survey would show that rates of sexual harassment have “increased significantly” since the last one was conducted in 2012.
“The commission will use the findings of the national survey to identify the scale and nature of the problem across a range of industry sectors,” she added in a statement.
The United Nations’ labour body earlier this month said it would draft an international treaty to protect workers from sexual harassment and violence.