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[16days_discussion] Fwd: Australia - Sexual Harassment & Street Harassment - Resource

Radha Paudel rpaudel456 at
Sat Aug 3 12:46:56 EDT 2013

Look like in Nepal !
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Date: Sat, 3 Aug 2013 18:26:22 +0200
Subject: Australia - Sexual Harassment & Street Harassment - Resource
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Australian Institute of Family Studies
Also via SVRI - Sexual Violence Research Initiative


By Bianca Fileborn

Direct Link to Full 12-Page 2013 Resource Sheet:
This Resource Sheet provides an overview of the existing research on
women's experiences of sexual harassment and street harassment. It
also considers conceptual models of sexual violence that are inclusive
of these experiences.

Women's experiences of street harassment and sexual harassment are
focused on in this paper. It is acknowledged that men can also be the
victims of this behaviour. However, street harassment and sexual
harassment are highly gendered occurrences. Women are overwhelmingly
the victims and men the perpetrators. The language adopted throughout
this Resource Sheet reflects this gendered reality.

Further, the conceptual model of sexual violence discussed later in
this publication (the continuum model of sexual violence) applies more
specifically to women's experiences of sexual violence across their
life course. That is, women experience a broad range of sexual
violence (ranging from the relatively "minor" to severe forms of
sexual violation) at rates considerably higher than men. Further,
while rates of victimisation remain relatively steady for women across
their life course, rates of victimisation against men tend to decline
across their life course (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS],

Key messages

  a.. Sexual violence, as a form of violence againt women needs to be
conceptualised in a way that reflects women's actual experiences,
ranging from relatively "minor" forms of sexual violence through to
sexual assault and rape.
  b.. The harm of sexual violence is not always directly correlated
with the perceived seriousness of the behaviour. Individual women
experience forms of sexual violence differently. The context behaviour
occurs in also plays a role in mediating its harm.
  c.. All forms of sexual violence are interconnected, and are
underpinned by the same social and cultural attitudes.
  d.. Sexual harassment and street harassment are highly prevalent and
common experiences for women. They are often not talked about and not
taken seriously as harm (particularly street harassment).
  e.. Sexual harassment and street harassment need to be included in
policy and legislation targeted at preventing or responding to sexual
  f.. Information on current responses and disclosure mechanisms is
also provided towards the end of this resource.
The terms sexual harassment and street harassment are used throughout
this publication. Although definitions of these phenomena are
considered at a later point, it is worth flagging from the outset the
reason for this choice in terminology - and particularly why two
separate terms are required here. The two terms are occasionally used
interchangeably in the literature, and are also used in slightly
different manners at times, for example, to refer to different scopes
of behaviour. However, sexual harassment tends to be used more
consistently to refer to experiences that occur within a work-based
setting. The term sexual harassment also has specific legal meaning in
Australia, again referring specifically to behaviours that occur
within a place of work or in the provision of services. Street
harassment is used to refer more specifically to experiences that
occur in a public setting. It is for these reasons that the two terms
are used throughout the paper. However, there is also great similarity
and overlap between sexual harassment and street harassment, as shall
become apparent throughout this paper.

This Resource Sheet has two primary purposes. Firstly, it provides an
overview and discussion on sexual harassment and street harassment,

  a.. definitions of sexual harassment;
  b.. the prevalence of these forms of sexual violence;
  c.. who perpetrates this behaviour;
  d.. the impacts of sexual harassment;
  e.. barriers to disclosure; and
  f.. current disclosure and reporting mechanisms.
Secondly, this paper explores a number of different models for
conceptualising sexual violence. That is, how do we determine what
counts as sexual violence, and how do we understand the harm caused by
experience(s) of sexual violence? This Resource Sheet focuses on how
we can best understand what are often considered to be "minor" forms
of sexual violence, such as sexual harassment and street harassment.
These minor or less severe forms of sexual violence are often excluded
from official definitions of sexual violence, such as legal
definitions. All forms of sexual violence are underpinned by the same
cultural and social attitudes and structures (Kissling, 1991;
MacKinnon, 1979). As such, all forms of sexual violence need to be
addressed and prevented. It is also suggested that the normalisation
and acceptance of more minor forms of sexual violence contributes
towards a broader culture that facilitates and excuses the occurrence
of more "severe" forms of sexual violence, such as sexual assault and

Defining sexual harassment and street harassment

This paper considers the occurrence of sexually harassing or "minor"
forms of sexual violence in the contexts of street-based harassment
and sexual harassment in the workplace. These two contexts have been
selected as they are the more commonly discussed and researched areas
of harassment. They are not the only contexts in which women
experience this form of behaviour. For example, sexual harassment is
also experienced in public/semi-public spaces such as licensed venues
(Fileborn, 2012; Kavanaugh, 2013; Watson, 2000) and educational
settings (Fairchild & Rudman, 2008). Limiting the discussion to these
contexts is not intended to minimise or deny the other spheres in
which women may experience sexually harassing behaviours.

The boundaries between sexual harassment and street harassment and
other forms of sexual violence are not easily defined. That is, they
are blurry and overlap (and this will be discussed in more detail in
the second half of this publication). This can make labelling these
forms of sexual violence particularly difficult. For instance, terms
such as sexual harassment or "minor" sexual violence can at times
downplay or occlude the harm of these forms of sexual violence. Yet,
at other times "sexual violence" seems too serious or broad a label
for certain behaviours or experiences. For example, how useful or
meaningful is it to categorise unwanted verbal comments alongside
rape? Further, it can be unclear when an experience or behaviour
shifts from being harassing to being sexually violent. The terms
"sexual harassment", "street harassment", and "sexual
violence"/"'minor' sexual violence" are used interchangeably in this
paper. However, this terminology is considered to be problematic for
the reasons outlined above.

Definitions of sexual harassment and street harassment typically
include a broad range of behaviours, including verbal comments,
staring, leering, and unwanted touching and groping. These definitions
are generally consistent with a continuum model of sexual violence
(MacKinnon, 1979). For example, Macmillan, Nierobisz, and Welsh (2000)
considered street harassment and sexual harassment to include:

  a.. sexual/verbal comments;
  b.. unsolicited and unwanted touching and physical contact;
  c.. attempts to coerce and individual into complying with sexual demands;
  d.. ogling (that is, staring in a lecherous manner);
  e.. stalking; and
  f.. obscene phone calls (p. 306).
Definitions of sexual harassment that focus on the behavioural
elements of the harassment (as opposed to the underlying social,
cultural and gendered elements of sexual harassment) are often
distinguished or organised by behavioural sub-types. Pina and Gannon
(2012) provided an overview of some common typologies, which include:

  a.. verbal comments and requests for sexual interaction;
  b.. non-verbal actions (such as hand or facial gestures);
  c.. physical harassment (such as touching, groping, rubbing); and
  d.. quid pro quo harassment, where there is either threat of harm or
reprisals, or "promises of advantages if sexual advancement is
accepted" (2012, p. 210). This form of harassment is generally limited
to work-based sexual harassment.
For Macmillan and colleagues (2000), the primary distinguishing
feature between sexual harassment and street harassment are that
sexual harassment is associated with a workplace setting, while street
harassment occurs in public settings and the perpetrator is generally
a stranger (p. 306-7). Yagil, Karnielie-Miller, Eisikovitis, and Enosh
(2006) suggested that there are three common elements to definitions
of sexual harassment occurring within the workplace:

  a.. presence of a behaviour that is sexual in nature;
  b.. the behaviour is experienced as unwanted; and
  c.. the behaviour is experienced as threatening the victim's job or
their ability to perform their work (p. 252).
Clearly, that sexual harassment in the workplace can impact on the
victim's ability to work or the security of their employment serves as
a point of differentiation between street harassment and work-based
sexual harassment. However, there is similarity in terms of the scope
and type of behaviours that street harassment and work-based sexual
harassment tend to involve, and it is on this basis that these sites
of harassment are being drawn together (Fairchild & Rudman, 2008;
Lenton, Smith, Fox, & Morra, 1999). Indeed, as Lenton et al. noted
"there appear to be many commonalities in etiological factors,
effects, and women's responses" (p. 537) to both street harassment and
sexual harassment. Further, Crouch (2009) argued that viewing
work-based sexual harassment as a distinct entity serves to obfuscate
the purpose of sexual harassment, which Crouch argued is "to keep
women in their place . a means of maintaining women's status as
subordinate in society" (p.137) and controlling their movement and
behaviour in public and other spaces. Nonetheless, in considering
these two contexts together, there is no intention to deny or downplay
any differences in the nature of this harassment.

Other authors have focused more strongly on the gendered nature of
street harassment and sexual harassment in defining this phenomenon.
Tuerkheimer (1997), for example, viewed street harassment as occurring
"when a woman in a public place is intruded on by a man's words,
noises, or gestures . he asserts his right to comment on her body or
other feature of her person, defining her as object and himself as
subject with power over her" (p. 167). In a similar vein, Laniya
(2005) expounded street harassment as "the unsolicited verbal and/or
nonverbal act of a male stranger towards a female, solely on the basis
of her sex, in a public space" (p. 100).

There is, however, a great deal of variation or inconsistency in terms
of what behaviours are included in definitions of sexual harassment
and street harassment. Some definitions also include behaviours that
would constitute sexual assault or rape. For example, Yagil et al.
(2006) defined sexual harassment as including "sexist comments and
behaviours that convey insulting, degrading, or sexist attitudes;
unwanted sexual attention that ranges from unwanted, inappropriate,
and offensive physical or verbal sexual advances to gross sexual
imposition, assault, or rape" (p. 252). In contrast, Novik, Howard,
and Boekeloo (2011) defined unwanted sexual advances as "a more
general type of sexual victimization that may include unwanted
touching or groping, kissing, and even verbal advances" (p. 35). Novik
and colleagues distinguish these from rape or sexual assault on the
basis that they may not be as traumatic for the victim. However, as
shall become apparent later in this Resource Sheet, this distinction
is not necessarily unproblematic.

Whether or not these behaviours are labelled as being harassment
depends on a large extent to how they are experienced or perceived by
the person on the receiving end of them, and the context that the
behaviour takes place in (Esacove, 1998; Fairchild, 2010; Katz, Hannon
& Whitten, 1996; Yagil et al., 2006). This is particularly so for more
ambiguous forms of sexually harassing behaviours, or contexts where
the intent of the perpetrator/initiator of the behaviour is ambiguous
(Fairchild, 2010). As Fairchild (2010) suggested:

  it is the perception of the target or victim that determines if the
event was indeed harassing . it is up to the victim to label the
behaviour harassment . this suggests that there are a multitude of
potential individual and situational variables that can influence the
perception of harassment. (p. 193)
Some of the factors that may impact on how sexually harassing
behaviours are perceived can include:

  a.. age of the harasser, with older perpetrators seen as more frightening;
  b.. being alone when the harassment occurs; and
  c.. the harassment occurring at night time (Fairchild, 2010, p. 201).
Participants in Esacove's (1998) study on women's experiences of
unwanted sexual attention described the following contextual factors
as making an advance "non-threatening" or complimentary:

  a.. the attention was given in a non-invasive manner;
  b.. the advance was made from a "safe" distance; and
  c.. the advance was made with "warmth" or "friendliness" (p. 186).
Conversely, Esacove's participants identified a range of contextual
factors that would make them more likely to interpret a sexual advance
or attention as "threatening":

  a.. the person making the advance was persistent;
  b.. the person making the advance was in close proximity;
  c.. the attention occurred in an isolated area;
  d.. the attention included staring or ogling, or whistling and hissing;
  e.. the attention involved the use of a threatening tone of voice;
  f.. there was an "aggressive" or "dominating" energy;
  g.. the attention involved sexual remarks; and
  h.. the attention involved touching (1998, p. 186).
Further, the nature of the relationship between the harasser and
victim can also influence whether a behaviour is interpreted as
harassment or not. Participants in Bursik and Gefter's (2011) study
were "more likely to label the behavioural interaction as sexual
harassment when there was power inequality between the harasser and
the target" (p. 343).

It is likely that the form the harassing behaviour takes will also
influence how the recipient of the behaviour interprets it. As noted
above, definitions of sexual harassment and street harassment are
broad and inclusive. Some forms of this harassment have the scope to
be interpreted in a range of ways by women. For example, Kissling
(1991) purported that "many women read street remarks as a form of
compliment, carefully distinguishing them from obscene or violent
street harassment" (p. 452). However, it is also likely that many
other women would not interpret the same remarks in a positive light.
This variation in how street harassment is experienced by women adds
to the complexity of attempting to conceptualise harassment as a form
of sexual harm, and in knowing how to best respond to this behaviour.
The intentions of the harasser may also vary, ranging from an intended
"compliment" through to a purposeful attempt to harass, harm and/or
intimidate their target (Kissling, 1991).

However, all of these forms of sexual harassment are interconnected,
regardless of intent or the way they are experienced by the recipient,
as "the remarks serve multiple functions of social control" (Kissling,
1991, p. 455). Kissling denoted this harassment as a form of "sexual
terrorism", which serves to remind women of their status as sexual
objects, and "of their vulnerability to these and other violations"
(p. 455). It is here that the interconnections between sexual
harassment and more severe forms of sexual violence are most apparent.
Firstly, sexual harassment functions as a reminder to women of the
threat or possibility of something "more serious" occurring, therefore
rendering women as sexually vulnerable (Crouch, 2009; Kissling, 1991;
Laniya, 2005; Macmillan et al., 2000; Tuerkheimer, 1997). Secondly,
both sexual harassment and sexual violence remove women's sexual and
bodily autonomy (MacKinnon, 1979), curtail women's behaviour, and are
used to threaten, intimidate, and harm women.

What do we know about sexual harassment and street harassment?


Being subjected to sexually harassing behaviours is a particularly
common experience for women (Pina & Gannon, 2012). Given the pervasive
and often highly public nature of these behaviours, it is perhaps not
surprising that high numbers of women have been subjected to sexual
harassment and street harassment. Indeed, Tuerkheimer (1997) went as
far as to say that for many women "street harassment seems an
inevitable part of our existence" (p. 180; see also Laniya, 2005). For
example, in Macmillan and colleagues' (2000) study "more than 80 per
cent [of participants] experienced some form of stranger harassment,
and almost 30 per cent experienced explicitly confrontational forms of
harassment" (p. 319). This study drew on data from the Canadian-based
1993 Violence Against Women Survey, and used a representative sample
of 12,300 women aged 18 years or older. Similarly, Lenton et al.'s
(1999) study of 1,990 Canadian women found:

  nine in ten women have experienced at least one incident of public
harassment, and three in ten have been involved in the most severe
type of harassment, where the perpetrator touched or tried to touch
the victim in a sexual way. (p. 537)
Lenton et al. (1999) also highlighted that younger women and single
women are more likely to be impacted on by sexual harassment and
street harassment stating that "younger women report much more
harassment than older women, and . single women are more likely to
report harassment than married, cohabiting or widower women regardless
of the measure used" (p. 530). LaMontagne, Smith, Quinlan, Shoveller,
and Ostry (2009) also found that younger women in Australia are
disproportionately affected by unwanted sexual advances in the
workplace (p. 177). Likewise, the Australian Human Rights Commission
(AHRC) (2012) also identified young adults (including both women and
men) aged 18-24 as the age group most likely to experience sexual

In Ho, Dinh, Bellefontaine, and Irving's (2012) study of 248 Asian and
White female college students in the USA, 96% of participants reported
experiencing at least one unwanted sexual advance, while 35%
experienced at least one incident of sexual coercion.

Around 41% of the 228 female college students in Fairchild and
Rudman's (2008) study indicated that they experienced "unwanted sexual
attention from strangers at least once a month, including sexist
remarks or seductive come ons" (p. 353). In addition to this,
approximately one-third of these participants reported experiencing
harassment such as "catcalls, whistles, and stares every few days or
more" (p. 353). Finally, one-quarter of Fairchild and Rudman's sample
encountered experiences "akin to sexual coercion or assault at least
once a month" (p. 353). Based on these data, the authors argued that
sexual harassment by strangers functions as "a significant form of
humiliation and indignity that targets women and is likely to
undermine the quality of their lives" (p. 353).

According to the AHRC national sexual harassment survey, one-third of
women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.
Further, one-quarter of women had experienced sexual harassment in the
workplace in the past 5 years (AHRC, 2012).

Finally, as with other forms of sexual violence, these statistics are
likely to underestimate the true extent of women's experiences of
sexual harassment. Victims of sexual harassment may not recognise or
label their experience as constituting harassment (Pina & Gannon,


Relatively little is known about the perpetrators of street harassment
and sexual harassment. As with other forms of sexual violence, the
perpetrators of sexual harassment are overwhelmingly male. For
example, 90% of the women who experienced sexual harassment in the
2012 AHRC study said the perpetrator was male. While women can and do
perpetrate sexual harassment (just as men can also be the victims of
sexual harassment), the most common perpetrator/victim configuration
is a man sexually harassing a woman.

Wesselmann and Kelly (2010) reported that social and cultural contexts
play a role in facilitating the occurrence of sexually harassing
behaviours, in conjunction with an individual's disposition for
engaging in sexual harassment (see also Pina & Gannon, 2012). They
found that this behaviour "is most likely to be perpetrated by men
with individual proclivities for sexual harassment only under context
where the situational norms are tolerant, ambiguous, or even
supportive of such behavior" (Wesselmann & Kelly, 2010, p. 451). In
contrast, where the situational norms were not supportive of sexual
harassment, men with a proclivity for sexual harassment were no more
likely to sexually harass than other men. These findings suggest that
evolving social and cultural norms in a manner that rejects sexual
harassment, and encouraging bystander intervention when sexual
harassment is occurring, may be viable and successful avenues for
preventing and reducing the occurrence of sexual harassment.

Wesselmann and Kelly (2010) also found that men were more likely to
engage in the sexual harassment of strangers when they were in a
group. Their participants suggested there were two main reasons for
this: the relative anonymity provided by a group context; and engaging
in sexual harassment acted as a form of group bonding (p. 458). Men
with a proclivity to engage in sexual harassment are also more likely
to hold problematic beliefs about sexual relationships and sexual
violence more broadly. Summarising the available literature on this
issue, Pina and Gannon (2012) indicated that these men "hold beliefs
about sexual behaviour that are adverse, endorse higher levels of
rape-myths and are more accepting of interpersonal violence" (p. 215).
Again, this demonstrates the interconnections between sexual
harassment and more "serious" forms of sexual violence.

Laniya (2005) identified three broad categories of perpetrators of
street harassment:

  a.. predatory harassers: who "harass for sexual satisfaction";
  b.. dominance harassers: who "harass to reassert men's power over women"; and
  c.. strategic/territorial harassers: who "harass to protect 'male'
environments" (p. 108).
However, it is not necessarily clear that individual offenders fall
neatly into one of these categories. That is, these categories of
perpetration may not be mutually exclusive. There are likely to also
be a range of other reasons that men engage in these behaviours
(Laniya, 2005).

The perpetrators of sexually harassing behaviours may also differ
based on the context in which it occurs. For example, work-based
sexual harassment is more likely to be perpetrated by someone known to
the victim, whereas strangers typically perpetrate street-based
harassment (Crouch, 2009).

Impacts of harassment

While sexually harassing behaviours are often viewed as being
relatively benign, harmless, or even as affectionate or a joke,
research suggests that these experiences can have a profoundly
negative effect on victims. For example, Macmillan and colleagues
(2000) found that street harassment impacted on participants'
perceptions of safety "while walking alone at night, using public
transportation, walking alone in a parking garage, and while home
alone at night" (p. 319). These negative impacts were significant
enough for the authors to suggest that "stranger harassment is a key
determinant of perceptions of safety among women" (p. 319), although
harassment from known perpetrators was not found to have the same
impact on perceptions of safety in this instance. For participants in
Fairchild and Rudman's (2008) study, experiencing sexual harassment
from strangers was "related to fear of rape, and reliably related to
perceived risk of rape" (p. 348).

Ho and colleagues (2012) identified sexual harassment as being linked
to a range of negative outcomes for female college students,

  a.. anxiety;
  b.. fear;
  c.. shame;
  d.. guilt;
  e.. headaches;
  f.. disturbed sleep;
  g.. decreased appetite; and
  h.. decreased weight (p. 96).
In addition to these impacts, Lenton et al. (1999) also identified the
following consequences of sexual harassment:

  a.. work-related issues, such as loss of job opportunities and lower
job satisfaction (for sexual harassment that occurs within the
  b.. distrust;
  c.. depression;
  d.. nausea;
  e.. sexual dysfunction;
  f.. gastrointestinal disorders;
  g.. lower self-esteem;
  h.. lower self-confidence;and
  i.. stress reactions (pp. 522-523).
Participants in Ho et al.'s (2012) study also experienced symptoms of
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 80% of participants
reporting they had experienced at least one PTSD symptom as a result
of sexual harassment. The severity of these symptoms, and particularly
depression, was positively correlated with the frequency of exposure
to sexual harassment. That is, the more participants had encountered
sexual harassment, the more negatively they were affected by it.
Further, the impact of the sexual harassment and coercion varied
depending upon the type of behaviour encountered. For Ho et al.'s
participants, the forms of sexual harassment that were seen as most
distressing included:

  a.. being stared, leered, or ogled at in a way that made the
participants uncomfortable (17%);
  b.. being touched in a way that made them uncomfortable (12%); and
  c.. having someone make unwanted attempts to stroke or fondle them
(11%) (2012, p. 100).
The consequences of sexual harassment and street harassment may also
be compounded by other social and structural factors, such as class,
race, sexuality and disability (Ho et al., 2012; Kelly & Radford,

In terms of the more immediate impacts of, or reactions to, street
harassment Lenton and colleagues (1999, p. 531) reported that
three-quarters of the 1,990 Canadian women they interviewed
experienced fear as their first reaction to being sexually harassed in
public space. Other immediate reactions of participants included
feeling angry (20%), violated (7.4%), repulsed (7.3%), or shocked
(5.4%) (p. 531). Significantly, 19.3% of participants reported still
"being afraid or upset, even though, in some cases, the harassment
took place years or even decades ago" (Lenton et al., 1999, p.531).
This suggests that rather than being a "minor" or trivial event,
sexual harassment and street harassment has the potential to
negatively impact upon women in an ongoing way. Tuerkheimer (1997)
encapsulated the harm caused by street harassment:

  The harm to our psyches and to our spirits is as real as the damage
inflicted upon our bodies when we are raped and beaten, and we are
similarly oppressed by it. (p. 190)
Lenton et al. (1999) found that women who have experienced sexual
harassment were more likely to engage in the use of protective
routines in comparison to women who had not experienced sexual
harassment - and women's use of avoidance or protective routines in
public spaces has been well documented (Esacove, 1998; Stanko, 1985,
1990). For example, women who had experienced street harassment were
more likely to avoid certain streets or public areas "always or most
of the time" (54.6%) in comparison to women who had not experienced
this harassment (36.4%) (Lenton et al., 1999, p. 534). This suggests
that sexual harassment and street harassment has the potential to
impact on women's fear of crime and perceptions of safety in public
spaces more generally, and to curtail women's freedom of movement and
access to/use of public space (Laniya, 2005). This impediment to
women's ability to freely access and utilise public spaces negatively
impacts upon their social and economic wellbeing. For example, feeling
unsafe in public spaces can restrict when and where women are able to
work or engage in social settings in ways that men generally do not
experience (Laniya, 2005; see also MacKinnon, 1979, in relation to
economic freedom).

Barriers to disclosure and reporting

It has been well established in the literature on sexual violence that
there is significant under-reporting of incidents of sexual violence.
It is estimated that as many as 85% of victims do not report their
experiences to police, or otherwise disclose to friends, family or
service workers (ABS, 1996). Similarly, incidents of street harassment
and sexual harassment are under-reported (Pina & Gannon, 2012). For
example, in Lenton et al.'s (1999) study only 9% of participants had
reported "their most upsetting experience of harassment to police" (p.
531). In the recent AHRC survey on sexual harassment only 20% of
respondents who were sexually harassed "made a formal report or
complaint" (AHRC, 2012, p. 5). There are a range of factors that may
contribute to the under-reporting and disclosure of sexual harassment:

  a.. Victims may not recognise or label their experience as
constituting sexual harassment. This is particularly so given the
broad range of behaviours that may constitute sexual harassment (AHRC,
2012; Bursik & Gefter, 2011; Pina & Gannon, 2012).
  b.. The behaviour in question may not be illegal, so there are no or
limited avenues of reporting (Lenton et al., 1999).
  c.. Sexual harassment is often dismissed as trivial, or even
welcome, behaviour (Kelly & Radford, 1996; Lenton et al., 1999;
MacKinnon, 1979; Stanko, 1996).
  d.. Victims may feel that no one will take them seriously.
  e.. Victims may fear reprisal from the perpetrator or other negative
outcomes (such as being viewed as a "troublemaker"), particularly for
sexual harassment that occurs within the workplace (MacKinnon, 1979;
Pina & Gannon, 2012).1
  f.. Victims may downplay the harm of their experience as a coping
strategy, particularly in relation to work-based harassment to allow
them to maintain their employment (Kelly & Radford, 1996).
  g.. Victims may consider it too risky to complain in a workplace
environment that is permissive of sexual harassment (Pina & Gannon,
2012, p. 211).
Current reporting and complaint mechanisms
There is currently a range of informal and formal avenues for
reporting or disclosing experiences of sexual harassment and street
harassment in Australia. Some of these avenues include:

  a.. Sex Discrimination Act 1984: Sexual harassment is currently
addressed under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act. The
legislation covers sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace,
educational settings, in the provision of goods and services, and in
the provision of education (AHRC, 2012).
  b.. State and territory sexual offences legislation: Some forms of
sexual harassment are also covered under various state and territory
sexual offences legislation, particularly forms of harassment that
also constitute sexual assault (e.g., forms of sexual harassment that
include physical/sexual touch). For more information on state and
territory legislation, refer to our Legislation Table (Fileborn,
2011). (hyperlink to laws resource sheet here)
  c.. Australian Human Rights Commission: The Australian Human Rights
Commission is the peak body that deals with sexual harassment
complaints in Australia.
  d.. Internal workplace policy and avenues of complaint: Many
workplaces also have internal policies and dispute resolution
mechanisms to address sexual harassment, in addition to the Sex
Discrimination Act.
  e.. Activist sites: There are currently also a number of informal,
consciousness raising and activist websites that provide the
opportunity for women to disclose experiences of sexual harassment and
street harassment. The most prominent of these is Hollaback
<>, which encourages women to share
their experiences of sexual harassment and street harassment.
Hollaback also encourages its community to act as ethical bystanders
if they witness sexual harassment occurring.
  f.. 1800RESPECT: Established under The National Plan to Reduce
Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022, 1800RESPECT
provides best practice, professional counselling, information, advice
and referral services for individuals and their family and friends who
have experienced, or are at risk of, domestic and family violence and
sexual assault. 1800RESPECT can be accessed by calling 1800 737 732 or
Conceptualising sexual violence and sexual harassment
What is sexual violence? While in some respects this may seem like a
straightforward or self-evident question, there are in fact a number
of different, complex approaches to conceptualising what sexual
violence "is". In particular, it is difficult to determine the
threshold for determining if a behaviour counts as sexual violence or
not. Do we consider all forms of sexual violation, regardless of how
seemingly "minor" it may be, to be sexual violence, or can sexual
violence and sexual harassment be distinguished or compartmentalised
from one another?

Further, how do we determine the harm caused by different forms of
sexual violence? Are all forms of sexual violence as harmful as
others? Can different forms of sexual violence be ordered according to
a hierarchical or linear model of harm, or is there instead a great
deal of overlap between different forms of sexual violence? What role
does the context that sexual violence occurs in play in influencing
how harmful a particular experience is? All of these questions have
serious implications for how we respond to different "types" of sexual
violence (or which forms of sexual violence are "harmful" enough to
warrant some form of response, and in particular a criminal justice
response) and, indeed, what is considered sexual violence in the first
place. This includes criminal justice, policy, prevention and service
provision responses. Definitions of sexual violence have often
excluded certain forms of behaviour that have been experienced as
harmful by women. For example, marital rape was until recently not
legally acknowledged as a form of sexual harm, or, more importantly in
the context of this paper, the recognition of sexually harassing
behaviours as a form of sexual violence or sexual harm (McKinnon,

This section will contrast two models or ways of conceptualising
sexual violence and its subsequent harm: a hierarchical model and a
continuum model. It is proposed here that the continuum model is more
appropriate in considering sexual harassment and street harassment.

Hierarchical model

Hierarchical models of sexual violence contend that different "types"
of sexual violence can be ordered in a more linear manner ranging from
most to least harmful. For example, legal approaches to sexual
violence typically construct sexual assault in a hierarchical way (for
an example of this, refer to Bachman & Paternoster, 1993, p. 559).
This becomes particularly apparent in the process of sentencing, where
the relative seriousness of the offence (in comparison to other sexual
offences) is taken into account in determining sentence length. This
ordering of offence seriousness is also seen in different categories
of sexual offences. For example, the offences of indecent assault and
sexual assault, which are associated with different levels of offence
seriousness, reflected in the different maximum sentences available
for each offence category.

Continuum model

The continuum model of sexual violence is based largely upon the work
and conceptual arguments of Liz Kelly (1987). Kelly's model viewed all
forms of sexual violence and harassment as interlinked, and as
occurring along the same continuum of behaviours. That is, it is
inclusive of any and all behaviour that women experience as being
sexual violence, ranging from what are often considered "minor" forms
of violation (or are not acknowledged as a form of violation in other
definitions of sexual violence at all (Kelly & Radford, 1996)),
through to behaviours that fall within official/legal definitions of
sexual assault and rape. Kelly purported that these different forms of
sexual violence are connected by "the basic common character . that
men use a variety of forms of abuse, coercion and force in order to
control women" (1987, p. 48). This broad and inclusive definition of
sexual violence also permits us to document and name "the range of
abuse, coercion and force that women experience" (p. 48). Kelly argued
that the continuum model allows us to account for the pervasive nature
of sexual violence, which impacts most if not all women, while also
recognising that "the form it takes, how women define events and its
impact on them at the time and over time varies" (1987, p. 48).

The continuum model also takes into consideration the nature of the
harm caused by experiences of sexual violence. Importantly for the
context of this paper, Kelly suggested that the effects of sexual
violence on women, with the exception of death, "cannot be read off
simplistically from the form of sexual violence women experience"
(1987, p. 49). Rather, how women respond to and cope with their
experiences may shift over time and "a complex range of factors affect
the impact of particular experiences" (1987, p. 49). According to this
model, it does not make sense to automatically dismiss or downplay the
potential harm of sexual harassment and street harassment, regardless
of how "minor" or benign those behaviours appear to be (and indeed, we
should also consider why and how it is that these behaviours are
considered "minor" or "benign" in the first place - are such
conceptualisations of sexual harassment based upon women's
experiences, or do they rather function to deny, dismiss and downplay
women's experiences of sexual harm?) (Kelly, 1987; Kelly & Radford,
1996). Instead, whether these behaviours are experienced as harmful
(and how harmful they are) may vary depending on a range of
contextual, personal and other factors, such as previous victimisation
experiences. Further, the harm caused by an incident of sexual
violence is not static, but is rather fluid and subject to change over
time. That is, for example, the harm of an incident may decline over
time. Alternatively, an experience that was previously understood as
unproblematic may be reinterpreted as constituting sexual harassment
or street harassment, and subsequently experienced as a form of harm.


This Resource Sheet has considered women's experiences of sexual
harassment and street harassment. An overview of the existing research
on sexual harassment and street harassment revealed that experiences
of these behaviours are common. Further, they are associated with a
range of negative consequences for victims in both the short and long
term. However, despite the prevalent and potentially harmful nature of
sexual harassment and street harassment, these forms of sexual
violence are often not taken seriously as a form of violation and
harm. It was argued that there is a need to adopt conceptual
understandings of sexual violence that are inclusive of sexual
harassment and street harassment, and such understandings should
inform criminal justice, therapeutic, and preventative responses to
sexual violence.


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1 Such fears are not unfounded, given that 29% of respondents in the
AHRC study who made a formal complaint reported that doing so had a
negative impact (for instance, they were demoted or experienced
further victimisation) (AHRC, 2012, p. 5).

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Action Works Nepal
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          actionworksnepal.awon10 at
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