Half of all women and a quarter of men sexually harassed

Media Release

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released new analysis of Personal Safety Survey (PSS) data, exploring experiences of sexual harassment in Australia in further detail.

According to the 2016 PSS, an estimated 5 million women (53 per cent) and 2.2 million men (25 per cent) aged 18 years and over have experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

Will Milne, ABS Director of the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics said: “The most common sexual harassment behaviour that women experienced was inappropriate comments about their body or sex life (33 per cent or 3.1 million women) followed by unwanted touching (30 per cent or 2.8 million women).”

“For men, it was unwanted touching (13 per cent or 1.1 million men).”

The new analysis found women and men who had experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime were more likely to have also experienced sexual assault.

“We found 30 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men who had experienced sexual harassment had also experienced sexual assault,” Mr Milne said. “This is compared with 2.7 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men who had not experienced sexual harassment but had experienced sexual assault.”

The analysis found that younger people were more likely to experience sexual harassment.

“Our analysis found the likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment decreased with age. Over a 12-month period, 38 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men aged 18 to 24 years experienced sexual harassment, compared with 7.1 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men aged 55 years and over.”

The data also showed that those who had difficulties meeting basic living expenses due to a lack of cash flow were over twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as those who did not experience such difficulties.

“Over a 12-month period, 31 per cent of women and 21 percent of men who had difficulties meeting basic living expenses experienced sexual harassment, compared with 14 per cent of women and 7.4 per cent of men who did not have these difficulties and experienced sexual harassment,” added Mr Milne.

Further results from the new analysis are presented in the article Sexual Harassment, available on the ABS website. It is the second article in a series exploring the prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence in Australia. The first article, Sexual Violence – Victimisation, was released in August, and the third and final article, Sexual Assault – Perpetrators, will be released in February 2022.

Results from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey are available at Personal Safety, Australia.

If you or anyone you know is in need or crisis please call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline 131 114.

Sexual Harassment 2021 audio grabs

Media notes

  • In the PSS, sexual harassment is considered to have occurred when a person has experienced or been subjected to one or more selected behaviours which they found improper or unwanted, which made them feel uncomfortable, and/or were offensive due to their sexual nature.

  • In the PSS, sexual assault is defined as an act of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, including any attempts to do this.

  • While the analysis shows a potential correlation between sexual harassment and sexual assault, it cannot be determined whether the experiences are causally linked.

  • Inability to meet basic living expenses (cash flow problems) includes one or more of the following: could not pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time; could not pay mortgage or rent payments on time; could not pay for car registration or insurance on time; could not make minimum payment on credit card; pawned or sold something because you needed cash; went without meals; were unable to heat or cool your home; sought financial assistance from friends or family; sought assistance from welfare or community organisations.

  • When reporting ABS data you must attribute the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or the ABS) as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS Media Team via media@abs.gov.au (8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri).
  • Subscribe to our media release notification service to get notified of ABS media releases or publications upon their release.
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