One in seven people are using tech platforms to sexually harass their colleagues, according to new data from Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

More than 3,000 people across the country were surveyed, with men more than three times more likely to harass their colleagues using work email, social media and text.

Perpetrators are frequently admitted to doing this to humiliate and frighten their targets, rather than out of any desire to engage in a sexual relationship with them.

Young people and women were particularly at risk of this kind of harassment, with work and personal emails and phones most commonly used by perpetrators.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 26 per cent of women who experienced sexual harassment did so at work, with 57 per cent subjected to it electronically.

Reducing sexual harassment in the workplace is a key element of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Their Children.

The government’s plan aims to end it within a generation, but has not specified a more detailed timeline for when targets will need to be met.

‘It’s the feeling that they’re always present’

Associate Professor of Criminology at Monash University and lead researcher Asher Flynn found victims felt they weren’t able to escape the harassment.

“If you’re being sexually harassed through technologies, you could be sitting at home on the couch watching the television and you could get an email or a message from someone,” Dr Flynn said.

“And it’s the feeling that they’re always presenting that really impacts significantly on victims.”

Dr Flynn said the data debunked the myth that workplace sexual harassment is the result of someone unreasonably approaching a colleague for a romantic or sexual relationship.

More than one in four of those who admitted to using tech to sexually harass a colleague said they did it to frighten or humiliate their victim.

“You’re not just accidentally stepping over the line. You’re deliberately doing this to make people uncomfortable.”

“One in seven is quite a significant number, but we would suggest that given around one in three people have experienced some type of sexual harassment, that it is likely that there are higher numbers of people involved in this type of abuse.”

A woman sits next to a big bright window looking at her phone.  She is having a cup of tea and is wearing a white jumper.

Reducing sexual harassment in the workplace is a key element of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Their Children, but there isn’t a specific timeline for when that will happen. (Image: Canva/ABC News)

Employers need support to meet active duty requirements

CEO of ANROWS Tessa Boyd-Caine said while technological advancements have improved the workplace in many ways, it can be a double-edged sword.

“This research shows that we haven’t kept up with the way technology can also be driving sexual harassment at work,” she said.

“We haven’t understood what technology facilitated workplace sexual harassment looks like, and we certainly haven’t got the policies, the procedures and the cultures in place to keep people safe at work through the uses of technology.”

Since 2022 employers have been required by law to take steps to try to eliminate sexual discrimination as much as possible.