Australian women more concerned with domestic abuse than sexual harassment new report suggests

Original Artcile: Miranda Ward, 9Honey | Mar. 7, 2018

While the international #MeToo movement has thrust sexual harassment and assault to the forefront, amongst Australian women domestic abuse is still seen as the biggest equality issue facing women, a new report has revealed.

According to Ipsos’ new study, ‘Global Misperceptions of Equality and the Need to Press for Progress’, while sexual harassment is seen as the top issue facing women globally, for Australians this ranks second behind domestic abuse.

Jessica Elgood, Ipsos director, told 9Honey: “There’s a whole range of things in the report and in some things Australia bucked the trends but in others we’re very in line with first-world nations.

“We asked both genders what the most important issues were facing women and girls in their country, and while they’re concerned with sexual harassment and violence as others are globally, they are particularly concerned with domestic abuse.”

Around two-fifths of Australian respondents cited domestic violence as the most important issue. Australia was only behind South Africa when it came to who viewed this as the most important issue.

The survey was conducted in 27 countries via the Ipsos Online Panel system including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the USA.

In total 19,428 were interviewed between January 26 and February 9 with approximately 1,000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 surveyed in Australia.

According to White Ribbon Australia, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them, and over the course of a year, on average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner.

Jennifer Mullen, White Ribbon’s executive manager of programs, told 9Honey: “In Australia, we have certainly seen a huge increase in awareness of this issue and it is thanks to the significant work of women and men, as well as organisations working in this space over a significant period of time to create this awareness.”

Ms Mullen said domestic violence is the “leading preventable cause of illness and death” and it is also the main cause of homelessness for women and children.

“It has a huge impact on women’s health, their safety and also on the Australian economy as a whole,” she said.

However, according to the Ipsos report, Australians tend to overestimate the prevalence of physical or sexual violence by a former or current partner or spouse.

Australian women interviewed in the study estimated that 47 per cent of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner, while men thought about 38 per cent – the actual figure is 25 per cent.

Ms Mullen said reporting of domestic abuse and domestic violence is very “complex”.

“A lot of women will not disclose their experience for a number of reasons, their own safety, fears of stigma,” she said.

“But what we’re seeing with increased awareness is increased reporting – it’s very positive, women are feeling confident to seek help.

“The report talked to some of the fear that women won’t be listened to and the impact that has on them,” Ms Mullen added.

While sexual harassment globally was seen as the top equality issue facing women, and for Australian women the second most important issue, according to the Ipsos report over half of the respondents think harassment reports are ignored, with a third of Australian women believing the same.

Ms Elgood believes media coverage has impacted on the results of the report, acknowledging however, that she does not have the evidence in the survey to support it.

“It does come down to the media coverage and attention the campaigners have managed to bring to the issue, it’s a good thing, it’s raising awareness for all of us,” she said.

White Ribbon’s Ms Mullen said the belief that reports are ignored “highlights…the role of the workplace to address this issue”.

“Statistically we know two thirds of women experiencing domestic abuse are in paid work and Vic Health has a statistic that says 60 per cent of women experience violence at work,” she said.

“No longer can workplaces say this is no longer a workplace issue. It impacts on an employee’s safety, health and wellbeing, productivity and their bottom line – through absenteeism, lack of productivity.”

According to White Ribbon, one in five women in Australia experience harassment within the workplace.

Ms Mullen said many workplaces are “proactively” addressing the issue of domestic abuse and violence.

Just this month, White Ribbon has announced the accreditation of 21 workplaces – taking the total to 166 that have achieved White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation – following 18 months of development and training to create a safer and more respectful workplace.

Some of the newly accredited workplaces include Mirvac, Fox Sports Australia, Rio Tinto and Anglicare SA.

The report’s findings come just days after the Federal Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer suggested the #MeToo movement could “silence the very women it wants to help".

In her first major speech since taking on the portfolio, Ms O’Dwyer said the movement had sent a message on the need to end harassment.

"But as the 'Me Too' movement continues to sweep the world, we need to think about the implications – both good and bad – that come with the airing of allegations in a public forum," she said.

In broader comments, Ms O’Dwyer announced “a federal fighting fund” to encourage more women to be elected in the Liberal Party, while also encouraging men to take on more responsibilities at home and work part-time.

"Why aren't there targets for men working part-time?" she said.

"I think the figures are really, really stark. There's a pretty strong culture in this country that says that women are the ones that need the flexibility, not men, and I simply challenge that.

"I know in certain workplaces, it’s only women who take on board the opportunity to work flexibly and when men actually asked for that opportunity, there are a lot of raised eyebrows," she said.

"I'm simply saying I think that needs to change."

Ms Elgood believes the Ipsos report overall shows a “pattern” that demonstrates women are concerned with balancing domestic and care work with a career.

“Clearly in the future, it’s not front of mind at the moment as post Harvey Weinstein there’s a focus on sexual harassment, but to me, the data also shows further down the line there’s a discussion around domestic chores and how we share the load in our relationships,” she said.

“When you look at the data with issues facing women, men and women are broadly concerned about the same challenges that women and girls face except when it comes to that area which to me suggests there’s more work to be done there and implies women are carrying more than 50 percent of that load.”

Ms Elgood said the report also does dispel some negative stereotypes around the “Australian macho male”.

“The slightly negative stereotype of Australian men would be they’re a little bit sexist, that’s the rugged perception we have. The survey says that while they’re not quite of the same view as women, the majority of men agree that gender equality is important,” she said.

“We ask questions like whether or not people consider themselves to be a feminist – we gave them an explanation, we asked if they believed in supporting equal rights for women, and with that definition, almost half of Australian men self-described themselves as feminists, and I have to say that really surprised me.

“The Australian story is quite positive and it challenges some of the stereotypes around the Australian macho male, he might be a bit macho but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t support equality for women.”