The Final Straw Was When He Apologised For What He Was 'About To Say And Do'

Who do you turn to when your boss won't even help?

When Jane* was 27 and working in television media, her manager came up to her desk and asked, "Have you ever had a sexual dream about a coworker?"

She looked around to see if anyone else had heard his comment, but as this was TV, everyone had their headphones in. No one had heard, or at least, no one was showing they had.

It was the latest in a number of inappropriate comments and sexual innuendos, jokes that weren't jokes but indicative of something far more sinister.

Not long after, Jane was cutting together a promo, and the same manager made a change to her work that forced her to stay back late to complete it.

"It was just me and him in this office," she told ten daily. "I just remember thinking, it's just me and him, it's late at night, if he comes over here and tries something, what am I going to do?"

By chance, there were a number of baseball bats in the office as part of a promotional campaign, and Jane made sure one was close to her at all times. Nothing happened, but the deeply uncomfortable feeling didn't leave.

"Who could I tell? The person above him was his drinking buddy of 14 years. We didn't have an HR department. We did have an office assistant, and she raised it with the head of the company at the time, who was a woman. The head of the company told her, 'Oh, he's harmless.' And my friend [the office assistant] told her, 'He's harmless to you because you're the boss. He's not harmless to someone underneath him.'"

The final straw was the Christmas party, when the manager came up to her, put his hands on her shoulders, and said, "I just want to apologise for anything I might say or do to you tonight."

She quit the next day.

More than 20 percent of Australians over the age of 15 have experienced sexual harassment, with 68 percent of those harassed in the workplace.

In the wake of #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein, more people than ever are coming forward with experiences of sexual harassment. One law group, Shine Lawyers, says it's receiving more than double the number of calls around sexual harassment than last year.

Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment, assault or rape by more than 50 women. He has been charged with committing rape, sexual misconduct and sex abuse against two women. Photo: AAP.

The Australian Human Right Commission (AHRC) says that early numbers from an upcoming survey on sexual harassment indicate it's more widespread than ever.

It's why it's also launching an in-depth examination into workplace sexual harassment, which will look at what's driving it, where it's happening, and what's allowing it to continue.

"We need to continue working to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something people simply have to put up with," said sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins on Wednesday, in a joint press conference with Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer.

"I believe this national inquiry is a huge step in the right direction."

The inquiry will last for 12 months and cost about $900,000, with half a million dollars contributed by the government.

"No one should have to suffer sexual harassment at work, or in any other part of their lives," said O'Dywer.

"This inquiry will be a positive and meaningful step forward in reducing sexual harassment at work and ensuring that, where it does occur, it is dealt with carefully and appropriately."

However, she would not be drawn into speculation on Sky News as to what changes the government would be implementing when the commission presents its findings next year.

The inquiry has the support of Labor's Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek, along with that of journalist Tracey Spicer, who has been leading the media investigations into workplace harassment in Australia (although she has been scuppered by far more cumbersome defamation laws than those in the US).

"Thanks to Kelly O'Dwyer and [the AHRC] for taking charge to create structural change in the wake of the #MeToo movement," she tweeted. "This is something I've been privately agitating for since October. Brava!"

Investigative journalist Sarah Ferguson also welcomed the move on Wednesday, stressing the importance of data around sexual harassment to help fix the "rotten" culture.

"The people who are hardest to reach, the people who are the hardest to change, the most rusted or awful members of our working environment are the ones who are not listening and are probably dismissing #MeToo," she said.

Although dozens of high profile men, largely in the entertainment industry, have had accusations leveled against them in the US, far less stories have come to light in Australia.

That is partially due to Australia's defamation laws, which Spicer has said are some of the "toughest in the world".

Both Geoffrey Rush and Craig McLachlan are suing media outlets (the former the Daily Telegraph, the latter Fairfax and the ABC) for reporting on alleged sexual misconduct. Both matters are before the courts.

Craig McLachlan is suing the ABC and Fairfax over reports of alleged sexual misconduct, harassment, bullying and assault, saying that the reports are untrue and damaged his reputation and mental health. Photo: AAP.

In the wake of #MeToo, Jane says she has been expecting the name of her harasser to "pop up", although it has yet to do so.

Privately, his name has prompted others around her to come forward with their own stories about him.

For Jane, however, the worst thing about her ordeal was the lack of support. When the boss doesn't take it seriously, who else do you turn to?

"Maybe he wouldn't have gotten physical, who knows," she told ten daily.

"But it's enough that he's making someone feel uncomfortable in their workplace. It's enough."