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Migrant, refugee women scared of reporting sexual harassment – study

22 September 20230 comments

Almost half of migrant and refugee women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace over the past five years, a new study has found.

Many are being harassed by their senior colleagues and many feel under pressure not to report the incidents, the study concluded.

Forty-six per cent of migrant and refugee women reported being victims of sexual harassment, which compares with a population-wide figure of 41 per cent.

The study, commissioned by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), also found 68 per cent of migrant and refugee women had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment in a broader setting in the past five years.

Most of the women reporting harassment were in temporary and/or casual roles, the study found.

The most commonly reported forms of harassment in the workplace were: indecent phone calls or messages (71 per cent); sexually suggestive comments of jokes (53 per cent); intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance (49 per cent), and; staring or leering that was intimidating (48 per cent).

Men were most frequently the harassers and in most cases were either senior colleagues or clients and customers.

The research, led by Monash University’s Professor Marie Segrave, found that victims of harassment believed the motivation for it was either gender or sex or their race and/or religion.

“This find illustrates the importance of addressing and understanding gendered inequity and sexual harassment as deeply connected to discrimination based on race and religion,” Prof Segrave said.

Of the 773 incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace examined in the study, 63 per cent were reported to someone.

In 88 per cent of the incidents, the respondent spoke to someone informal outside their workplace. In 15 per cent of the incidents, the victim spoke to a formal authority outside their workplace and in 45 per cent of the incidents, the victim spoke to someone inside their workplace.

The study found the major reasons for not reporting the sexual harassment were “feeling responsible”, ‘feeling uncertain what to do” and “feeling concerned about the impact on their employment”.

It found that a third of victims felt threatened or had been warned not to report what had happened to them.

The study’s authors said it highlighted the importance of asking migrant and refugee women about their experiences in details ways.

“The findings reveal patterns of workplace-based sexual harassment, including the commonality of multiple perpetrators as being key to many migrant and refugee women’s experiences,” they said.

“The high rate of clients as perpetrators of workplace-based sexual harassment was also important. When we examined women’s responses to workplace sexual harassment, two things were consistent: first, that women reported feeling responsible, were concerned about their employment or did not know what to do or who to go; second, threats and warnings to not report were commonly experienced.

“Taken with the finding regarding the role of senior members of staff being responsible often for perpetrating workplace sexual harassment, the rate at which women reported being concerned about their employment raises important issues,” the authors said./    

The study was carried out as an online survey among more than 700 women and gender diverse persons in six languages – Arabic, English, Farsi, Swahili, Chinese and Dari.

The researchers say it is a first step in building a “detailed national picture of the experiences of a diverse group of migrant and refugee women to inform more targeted engagement with women and workplaces regarding unacceptable workplace behaviour”.

The next phase of the research and a final report will be released in 2024.