By ELLA McEWAN
New statistics show that sexual harassment in the workplace is steadily on the rise, and university aged students are the most vulnerable.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins revealed the study at National Press Club in Canberra last month.
After 10,000 people were surveyed, the data showed that people aged 18 to 29 had a much higher chance of facing sexual harassment at work.
Monash University student Emilie Baxter, 21, said the problem was opportunistic employers or customers.
“They see late at night that there’s an 18-year-old girl in a store by herself and think, I’m going to take a crack,” Ms Baxter said.
When Ms Baxter was 18 she worked nights alone at a store that sold alcohol, she experienced multiple instances of sexual harassment with customers.
“I think they would look at me and see this small weak little girl, that because I’m young and inexperienced and I don’t know how to stand up for myself yet, that they could take advantage of that.”
Once incident left her so anxious she had to call her management and ask for help.
“This guy came in the store and he just kept following me around, and he would leave and then come back while trying to engage in conversation with me … I was 18, I was so scared.”
Another night Ms Baxter said she was approached by an older regular customer who mistook her politeness as interest.
“He said maybe we can go out sometime and I said, no thank you. And he got really violent, he got really mad and it scared me. He became super aggressive.”
These interactions affected her so much she became more anxious, she said.
“I had a bit of anxiety, and that exacerbated it to the point where going to work would make me sick, because I was so scared because that guy would come in all the time.”
Ms Baxter said this experience had affected her work prospects.
“It happens everywhere, it depends on the environment, but if he thinks he’s going to get away with it, he’s going to do it,” Ms Baxter said.
Ms Baxter said she didn’t see any resolution to the matter after she spoke with her employers.
“I either could deal with it, or have my hours cut and work during the day with other people.
“So what why am I, the victim, having to make sacrifices myself for something that’s not my fault? I was just trying to protect myself, and they wouldn’t help me. They didn’t make any effort at all.”
Lean in is a community based group that aims to support women by meeting regularly and providing tips on advancing gender equality, with chapters all over the world.
Melbourne chapter leader Sonali Shah said the group provided a much needed service to affected women.
“It’s important to listen to each other and just be there for other people,” Ms Shah said.
Young people were extremely vulnerable to workplace harassment, she said.
“Some employers may believe that their younger employees will not lodge a formal complaint, so there is less risk associated,” Ms Shah said.
Ms Jenkins said the sexual harassment survey showed the formal reporting of sexual misconduct was still low, with 17 per cent of people lodging a complaint or report, added.
Ms Shah said: “I hope surveys like this are enough to make some change in all workplaces, because no one should be feeling uncomfortable at work.”
The results will be used to inform the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into sexual harassment, which is receiving public submissions now, until January 31 next year. Make submissions HERE.