Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT: Sexism Report

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (22:09): Last week the Australia Institute released a paper entitled, Everyday sexism: Australian women's experiences of street harassment. This particular survey was conducted last November and looked at the issues of harassment against women in public places. The survey explored the experiences of women, their feelings of safety on the streets and any changes in behaviour they experienced through their fear or concern about the sexism. The data was extremely confronting. The survey showed that 87 per cent of Australian women have experienced at least one form of verbal or physical street harassment. Among those who had experienced street harassment, 56 per cent were alone when they experienced the attack, and three in four women, or 74 per cent, were harassed by a man or a group of men. The majority of the women were under 18 when they first experienced this sort of harassment and, disturbingly, 40 per cent of Australian women involved in this survey did not feel safe when walking alone at night in the vicinity of their home-their familiar place. They did not feel safe walking to their own homes. Some 87 per cent of women have taken at least one action to ensure their own personal safety in the last 12 months-talking to friends and looking at ways for them to feel safer.

It is extraordinarily confronting to hear the real experiences of women-not just through the survey, but through an accompanying paper, which is the Everyday Sexism project. This is a website that catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women in Australia on a daily basis. Women contact the website and report what has happened to them. These first-person street harassment experiences from the Everyday Sexism project were used in the paper that was published last week, along with the stats of the survey, to give a snapshot of a really disturbing element in our society. The paper was written in the context of an ongoing discussion about the increasing violence and attitudes to violence against women in our society.

We know that, since 1995, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women survey has been tracking changes in attitudes to violence against women. There are three key survey dates-1995, 2009 and 2013. Over that time, concern over women's safety in the community has declined, and the most recent survey found that, since 1995, there has been a decrease in the number of people who agree that violence is perpetrated mainly by men. Between 2009 and 2013 there was a decrease in those who recognised that women are more likely than men to suffer physical harm and fear as a result of the violence. Between 2009 and 2013 fewer people agreed that violence against women was common. In that kind of environment, it is important to look at what is happening now and what women are saying is occurring to them and how that is forcing them to feel fear and to make changes in their own lives.

I was particularly concerned by some of the experiences reported by the Everyday Sexism project. When you match that with other responses from the survey, such as 87 per cent of Australian women have experienced a form of verbal or physical street harassment, and when you hear what women say what concerns them, it is disturbing. One of the contributions is from a woman who was walking home at night on a relatively busy street when a couple of young men in a passing car yelled: 'I am going to rape you.' She continued: 'They didn't come back and I made it home safely, but I was alone and it frightened me.' That kind of experience is not a one-off. The fear, concern and sometimes real anger that it causes can affect a woman's wellbeing, sleep and has an impact on her self-worth. It is simply not appropriate-it never has been, it is not now and it will not be in the future.

It is not just women of a particular age who are targeted. One woman left work to get her lunch. She was crossing the road when a man in a bright yellow car decided to yell out particularly rude comments to her, a 40-year old mother in broad daylight. She was wearing her work clothes. He was driving, so she did not think he was drunk; not that that would have been an excuse, but you would think that someone who would feel that they needed to do that in the middle of the day would at least have some excuse for their behaviour. Also, and most disturbingly, it is not just verbal comments: it became clear in the survey that so many women have experienced lewd comments, whistles, and inappropriate comments. But there is actually a more violent process that was exposed during this survey. One of the particular concerns was the feeling of being stalked or followed, or of having your way blocked, when you are feeling alone and vulnerable.

Another story from the Everyday Sexism Project was that of a young woman who was on the train with some friends, when she noticed that there was a man behind her just staring at her. 'I did not know what to do; I ignored it because I thought it would go away', but then this man followed her from the train and followed her down a road towards her home. Again, Mr President, this is something that causes fear and alarm, and makes you feel unsafe. In this environment, it is important that women have an opportunity to talk about their experiences and to share them, and it is important to ensure that the messages that they are giving are listened to effectively-and that there is a sense that we as a community know that this is wrong. It is not a joke. It is not something that should just be shrugged off.

As I am getting older, I am becoming more offended by people telling me I should actually have a sense of humour about these things. I do not think it is funny. I really do not think it is funny that women are feeling unsafe, and I do not think that we as a community should be expected to think that this is something we should accept, or that we should support. When you read the survey, it is important to understand that there can be a response, and that we have an opportunity to actually give support. A very concerning thing that came out in the survey was that so many of the people who shared their stories-by contacting the website or by sharing through the survey-were very young and still at school. And they were already experiencing this fear and these attacks. There can be a number of responses to this. Some people can make the statement that they are not going to put up with it; that they know it is inappropriate; and that they will be able to move forward and ensure that they say 'no'-and make this statement clearly in their community. Or, very worryingly, we have cases of people who are traumatised by the experience: they do not feel safe; they change their social habits; and they do not feel they are able to be themselves in public-and then they begin questioning their own worth and, seemingly, whether in fact it was something about them that attracted this attention or caused the hurt.

It is important that we acknowledge surveys like this one by The Australia Institute, and that we learn from them. It is important that we have the reinforcement mechanisms in our community and in our schools to say that this is not appropriate. And this is not just for women; it is for men as well. Behaviours can be learnt and behaviours can be unlearnt. We need to independently survey the attitudes, and independently survey the information, and then have the strength to say no-and not be diverted by people just saying, 'oh, you should not worry about that; it is just a bit of fun'. Mr President, it is not a bit of fun. People have every right to feel safe. They should feel safe. I believe that, as we continue to have these discussions about this issue-and when we look at the next National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey-we should be able to question these results, and to say that violence is wrong. There should be an acknowledgement of this, and we should not accept that violence against women is common.