Half of all woman in Australia sexually harassed

Half of all Australian women say they have been sexually harassed, and sexual violence remains stubbornly prevalent in Australian society, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

The Personal Safety Survey, undertaken three times since 2005, comes after a global sexual harassment scandal has engulfed dozens of high-profile and powerful men, including filmmakers Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner and James Toback, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey.

The survey of 21,000 men and women - who were asked about their experience of violence, harassment, stalking and emotional abuse - is considered a more complete picture of violence than police data as it includes incidents often not reported to authorities.

"Sometimes we're the first people they've told about their experiences," the ABS's program manager for household surveys, Michelle Marquardt, said.

The results show that, despite a decrease in physical violence against men, Australia is still plagued by violence: two in five adults have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

Children being at the receiving end of violence or witnessing it among their parents is common, the report found. One in six women and one in 10 men experienced some form of abuse as a child. About one in nine Australians said they witnessed violence towards their mothers in the home when they were young.

Moo Baulch, chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW, said the findings were significant in light of research highlighted by Fairfax Media columnist Jenna Price this week that almost 20 per cent of women who die by suicide were exposed to domestic violence as children.

"If growing up in a violent household is a significant factor in later suicides as that data suggests then we have a huge responsibility to ensure that children have access to child specialist trauma supports," she said.

The survey has revealed how rife sexual harassment is; one in two women had experienced it in the course of their lifetime and, in a finding that surprised researchers, one in four men had too. In the past year, 2.4 million Australians said they experienced harassment.

Women aged 18 to 24 were the worst affected, with 38 per cent reporting acts such as inappropriate comments about their bodies and sex life, indecent exposure or unwanted touching, kissing or grabbing in the past year.

"That's almost every other woman you speak to in that age group," Ms Marquardt said. "That seems to be a lot."

The proportion of women who said they had been harassed in the year prior to being surveyed increased from 15 per cent in the 2012 survey to 17 per cent in 2016.

Overall, men were at the receiving end of violence more often than women, the ABS found.

Forty-two per cent of Australian men, or 3.8 million people, experienced violence compared with 37 per cent of women. It was predominantly physical violence and largely committed by male strangers in public places such as bars.

However, for women, violence was predominantly at the hands of a male partner and was rarely reported to police.

One in five had experienced violence at the hands of a partner in their lifetime, a rate that is three to four times that of men.

Physical violence against men has almost halved in 11 years but domestic violence against women has not budged.

"Today's numbers suggest that we need to do some serious work in the prevention space, particularly focusing on the social change that needs to occur if we are going to shift domestic and family violence prevalence rates," Ms Baulch said.

??? Support is available by phoning National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491.

This story Half of all woman in Australia sexually harassed first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.