She who shares her story of…

“With time you will get over it”, they said!

The Story

I was a 23 year old working FIFO in the mining industry and worked in a remote camp 300km from town by road. I was a social person and made friends with everyone. To fit in, I felt like I had to be “one of the boys” and would drink at the wet mess every night with the contract miners and try to keep up with them. It led to more than one morning where I couldn’t go to work because I self-tested over the limit. I often caught up with co-workers outside of work for drinks or I would go fishing with them. All of my co-workers were men, most of them older and married.

I had to have two weeks off work and stay at the university to complete my thesis.  A co-worker lived within 4 hours drive and offered to put me up for a night, for a break and to meet his family. I had known him for a year and we had been on the same swing and we had beers in the mess every night at work. He was a Contract Superintendent in his 50s and I had heard a lot about his family over the last year. I accepted his kind offer. I needed to get out of the university for a night and have some company.

When I drive the 300km to his home, his family had been unexpectedly called away for that night. He offered me a beer straight away and said dinner was in the over – he had made two dozen oysters Kilpatrick. I didn’t feel weird about it, I had no reason to…I trusted him.  

We drank like we did in the mess and talked like we did in the mess. It was dark now and I had been drinking for some time. When he followed me into the shower and assaulted me I went numb and I froze. I was alone with this man who had almost 100kg on me and I couldn’t drive anywhere. With my mind and body emotionless I sat on the lounge in a blanket until the sun came up and I felt like I could drive.  I left in a daze and called my friend to tell her what happened. She told me I needed to go to the police, but I knew he was finishing his contract on site and I would never see him again. I was confident I could just shut it out.

When I got back to the university I filled out an online form that would alert the police but didn’t want to ask for charges – I felt stupid. I felt like it was my fault. I trusted the man. I drank with the man. I put myself in that position. What would they think of me?

A week later I flew into work, stepped into my morning meeting and he was in the room. I walked out and went to my donga, I said I wasn’t well. I told my Superintendent and he said he’d talk to HR but that I should just try to carry on as normal. HR rang me and told me the EAP number, and said it really had nothing to do with them because it didn’t happen on site and he was a contractor. I asked if they could just move him to a different site – she said no, he doesn’t work for them.

I’ll never forget her words she said to me…“with time you’ll get over it.”

He ended up stalking me around the mine, turning up in places he never previously would, places only people in my team would go. I told my Superintendent about this and he said he’d talk to HR. HR gave me the EAP number again. I took sick days, I told them I didn’t feel safe, I couldn’t sleep at night. They said I had two choices – leave or put up with it. I chose to put my notice in. I was encouraged to not tell the truth for why I was leaving or it would hurt my career opportunities. I lied and said I wanted a career change. It surprised a lot of people because I loved my job and I was great at it.

I couldn’t work for over a year after the attack. I sat catatonic on my parents lounge for 6 months until they took me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety and depression. I spoke to lawyers about how I was treated by the company, they told me it was a workers compensation case, and if I wanted to air my dirty laundry be prepared to never work in mining again.

It’s been ten years and I still wake up at night crying. Not about the assault, but the absolute lack of compassion provided to me by the company I worked for, and those who should know how to deal with matters like this better.

I can tell you…it is not time that gets you over it.

The Message

The Australian Human Rights Commission has found that 40 per cent of workers in the mining sector experienced sexual harassment in the past five years.

Employee sexual harassment outside of work is still considered the employer’s responsibility because such behaviour still serves to create a hostile work environment when the employee is back on the clock.

Contract workers often are treated differently than employees because they may have a different employer, work different hours or work in a different place. That’s all standard practice. But when it comes to sexual harassment, all claims should be taken seriously and treated the same.

For women seeking career progression in male-dominated sectors of rural Australia infiltrating the network of the “boys club” is seen as important. Some believe that their career success depends on “drinking with the boys” at functions and that opting out of such events would inhibit career advancement.

Sexual harassment can cause physical and psychological harm to the person it is directed at and anyone witnessing the behaviour. This can be ongoing and long lasting impacts on someone’s life. After sexual assault, survivors may feel their bodies are not really their own. Survivors often report feelings such as shame, terror, and guilt. Many blame themselves for the assault.  Self-blame and isolation are often the norm for victims of sexual trauma.

While sexual harassment should always be viewed as a ‘whole of company’ issue, Human Resources professionals are protectors of the company’s culture. If they do this well, if they listen and allow people to be heard, and are prepared to respond to sexual harassment complaints, then victims should feel confident that their matter will be handle with respect.

The Call to Action

Conduct sexual harassment training in workplaces in order for employees and contractors to properly understand what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to respond to instances of sexual harassment.

When an employee complains that he or she is experiencing sexual harassment of any type, the employer has a legal, ethical, moral, and employee relations obligation to investigate the charges thoroughly—without delay. 

Take allegations of sexual harassment seriously and respond as appropriate in the circumstances.

Prioritise employee wellbeing and provision of support, including before they make a report, and during any formal processes.

If sexual harassment does occur, take appropriate remedial action. An employer should have appropriate procedures for dealing with grievances and complaints once they are made. Implement any necessary changes to make sure the complainant is comfortable in the workplace. This may require you to remove the alleged harasser from the workplace during the investigation. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable raising concerns regarding sexual harassment with their managers, human resources representatives, or where applicable, an appointed EEO officer, free from adverse action or victimisation.