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Small town' culture preventing women from reporting sexual harassment, anti-discrimination commissioner says

ABC | July 18, 2018

Concerns workplace sexual harassment complaints will not be kept confidential in small towns is part of the reason reports have not increased in the Northern Territory, according to the NT anti-discrimination commissioner.

The rise of the #MeToo movement has seen an increase in public outings of sexual harassment, commissioner Sally Seivers said.

But the small-town nature of Northern Territory towns could be the reason why an annual anti-discrimination report, due in September, is unlikely to document a rise in official workplace harassment complaints.

"Workplaces are supposed to have a robust and confidential complaint process so maybe in a smaller place like the Northern Territory, people may not know that process exists," Ms Sievers said.

"Women may also not be confident that in smaller environments that confidentiality [of their complaint], not being victimised [by colleagues and employers], and their employment not being compromised are measures in place."

Ms Sievers also noted that people in the Northern Territory may be unaware if they have in fact been harassed in the workplace.

"I have gone around the Northern Territory and one of the things I have found was that I would ask women whether they had been harassed in the work place and many of them would say 'no'," she said.

"When I then discussed and outlined what constitutes sexual harassment, things like suggestive comments or subtle suggestive touching, many women would then say that they had been harassed."

Live-in workplaces deter women from lodging complaints.

The commissioner also noted that the uniqueness of some Territory workplaces — such as live-in employment environments — may be another reason why women are less likely to report harassment incidents.

Despite the steady rate of complaints reported in the Northern Territory, Ms Sievers said it was encouraging to see more Territorians willing to informally share their experiences of inappropriate work place behaviour, since the #MeToo movement began.

"In all of the places I go whether it be schools, to senior public service women, to corporations, to lawyers people; women in particular are much more comfortable about talking about sexual harassment," she said. 

"There wouldn't be one of those environments now where people haven't got stories to tell about their experiences with sexual harassment, so the stories are getting out there."

Ms Sievers added that she hoped awareness around sexual harassment in the Northern Territory would encourage more people to use the commission's complaint process.