Exclusive: Eight in 10 women are so terrified of being outside after dark they clutch their car keys as weapons or pretend to be talking on the phone to ward off potential attackers.
A News Corp Australia online survey which asked women to anonymously share their stories of sexual harassment or assault has laid bare just how unsafe Australian women feel in public, at work and even in their own homes.
The shocking findings come as a large group of senior corporate leaders from banking, insurance sport and emergency services in the Champions of Change Coalition are calling on men to speak out immediately when they see a woman being disrespected.
“As men we must call it out. To call out sexist jokes, stereotyping and biases that traditionally went unaddressed and do more about the structural issues like the gender pay gap, female representation in management, power imbalances and equal parental leave for men and women so that caring duties aren’t a women’s issue alone,” said Medibank CEO Craig Drummond.
“If you see a woman being disrespected call it out immediately. Make it clear that it’s not okay – not at home, not in the workplace, not ever. The time for pulling someone aside privately is over,” he said.
James Fazzino, Non-Executive Director and Convenor of Champions of Change Coalition,
said “we haven’t got this right, and what we’ve been doing to address sexual harassment isn’t working. This is a workplace safety issue and we need to treat the prevention of sexism and sexual harassment with the same priority we apply to the prevention of physical injuries”.
More than 1200 women responded to News Corp’s survey and revealed stories of violent partners who pushed them down stairs, isolated them from friends and made them feel worthless.
“My supervisor groped my breasts and tried to kiss me, along with 10 other women around the same time. When I complained to management, I was demoted,” one woman said.
“Ex-husband – only one episode of violence – pushed me down the stairs in a rage. But it was bad and I had to take myself to hospital. He was in complete denial it ever happened. I still suffer the physical consequences,” said another.
More than 100,000 women around Australia marched last week to bring an end to rape, violence and sexual harassment and our Stop the violence: Share your story survey asked them why.
A staggering 1004 of the 1232 respondents revealed they don’t feel safe being out and about after dark.
Three in four respondents said when out at night they held their keys between their fingers for protection, asked friends to text them when they got home safely and nearly nine in 10 changed the side of the street they walked on to avoid someone they feared could be violent.
Three in four women stayed on their phone or pretended to be talking to someone to protect themselves while out at night.
Safety remains top priority for best friends Vanessa McLean and Charlotte De Pedro.
Ms McLean, who moved to the inner suburbs from Rosebud in Victoria, said she and Ms De Pedro have adopted several safety measures to help keep them safe.
“I also always have something in my hands like my keys just in case.”
“We also have each other on Find My Friends (safety tracking app) and all those apps.
“It’s nice to know where the other person is, especially if we’ve been out and need to get home.
Ms De Pedro said she is used to the bustling atmosphere of bars and restaurants providing a sense of security for her solo trips home.
But, the uneasy feeling caused by walking in a quiet or dark area on her own has never gone away.
“Hearing stories of men follow women into their building hits close to home for my friends and I because we all live in buildings around the city,” she said.
“It could happen to any of us.”
Kira Brown said all men have a part to play, even the good ones.
“”I wish I could walk around by myself and feel comfortable but I just can’t,” Kira said.
“The problem is that men always think ‘well, it’s not me’, but everyone has those misogynistic and sexist prejudices ingrained in them, especially men,” she said.
“I think a lot of men aren’t really questioned on it a lot of the time.
“It’s about trying to open up that conversation with what’s happening right now.”
Fellow housemate Bhavsheen Kaur said stories of extreme behaviour from men have made her wary of travelling on her own at any time of the day.
Ronney Chen said: “I’m glad that this conversation is happening, because I shouldn’t have to take extra measures”.
Two in three of the women who responded said they had been in an abusive relationship, one in three had been physically abused, more than one in four sexually abused and one in four financially abused.
A staggering seven in ten women said they had been sexually harassed at work including more than one in five who had been sexually assaulted in the workplace.
Seven in ten had been subject to crude remarks or unwanted advances in the workplace but most did not report the problem because they feared it would affect their career progression.
More than half those surveyed said they believed their parenting and caring responsibilities had affected their career progression.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said a 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2018 workplace sexual harassment survey found that 72 per cent of respondents had been sexually harassed in their lifetime.
Over a year ago she delivered to the Federal Government major report on the actions needed to stop sexual harassment but its recommendations have not yet been acted on.
RMIT management expert Professor Sara Charlesworth said only around 8 per cent of people who had been sexually harassed took any action external to their organisation, even fewer went to the Human Rights Commission.
If you need help immediately please call:
*National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
*24-hour Emergency Accommodation helpline on 1800 800 588
*Safe At Home helpline on 1800 633 937
*Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
*Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1
*Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or Don’t Become That Man on 1300 243 413
*Lifeline on 13 11 14
Women’s Legal Service Victoria – https://www.womenslegal.org.au/legal-services.html
Victoria Legal Aid – https://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/get-legal-services-and-advice/free-legal-advice/get-help-over-phone
Good Shepherd – https://goodshep.org.au/services/financial-independence-fih/
Financial Counselling Australia – https://www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au/
Seniors Rights Victoria – https://seniorsrights.org.au/
Originally published as Aussie women clutch keys between fingers in fear