One in seven Australian adults report engaging in workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment, new study finds

Monash University

The first national study to investigate workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment (WTFSH) has revealed one in seven Australian adults surveyed admit to engaging in this form of sexual harassment at work.

Workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome or harassing sexual behaviour utilising mobile, online and digital technologies within a workplace setting. It includes a wide range of behaviours and can occur during or after working hours.

The study was led by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), together with Associate Professor Asher Flynn from Monash University and Professor Anastasia Powell from RMIT University. The research highlights the role of gender in perpetration of WTFSH, with 24 per cent of surveyed men admitting to using technology to engage in workplace sexual harassment, compared to 7 per cent of women.

Other key findings included:

  • Nearly half (45 per cent) of WTFSH perpetrators worked in male-dominated workplaces.
  • Perpetrators minimised the severity of WTFSH, believing victim-survivors would be “okay with it” (52 per cent), flattered (45 per cent) or find it humorous (42 per cent). Others said they wanted to pursue a sexual or personal relationship with the victim-survivor (41 per cent).
  • One in four perpetrators reported malintent, aiming to annoy (31 per cent), humiliate (30 per cent), frighten (30 per cent), hurt the feelings of (30 per cent) or express their anger towards (31 per cent) the victim-survivor.
  • People surveyed were over 15 times more likely to engage in WTFSH if strong sexist and discriminatory attitudes were held, making these attitudes the strongest predictor of such behaviour.
  • The most common devices and platforms for WTFSH included work email (31 per cent), personal phone or mobile (29 per cent), personal email (27 per cent) and work phone or mobile (25 per cent).
  • Despite the prevalence of WTFSH, less than half (39 per cent) of perpetrators had any formal reports or complaints made against them.

Associate Professor of Criminology at Monash University, Dr Asher Flynn, emphasised the importance of the findings.

“These findings underscore the pervasive nature of workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment, revealing not only its extent, but also the troubling attitudes and motivations behind such behaviours. It’s imperative that we address these issues comprehensively to foster safer and more respectful work environments for all,” Associate Professor Flynn said.

CEO at ANROWS, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, explained how new technologies in the workplace were creating new avenues for abuse.

“The need to address this sexual harassment gap is all the more urgent. Employers need to build safety into workplace cultures and technologies to protect their staff. Likewise, policymakers must prioritise implementing effective measures to prevent and address these behaviours,” said Dr Boyd-Caine.

The report is among the first from ANROWS’s Sexual Harassment Research Program (SHRP) and offers crucial insights to aid Australian employers and policymakers in combatting tech-based sexual harassment in the workplace effectively.

/Public Release.