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Why Amy Teauber's story is so remarkable in Australia

AMY Taeuber's story is extraordinary.

The then 27-year-old was working as a cadet journalist in Channel Seven's Adelaide newsroom when she made a harassment complaint about a senior male colleague.

An audio recording of Taeuber's subsequent suspension from work, being required to return her phone and having her support person asked to leave, was aired on the ABC's 7.30 program this week. She was then escorted from the building and would not return to work.

But Taeuber's story is not extraordinary because of the kind of conduct she complained about. Sexual harassment is a shockingly ordinary occurrence in workplaces around Australia and so is the inclination of powerful institutions to protect their own.

What is extraordinary is that Taeuber made a complaint in the first place.

Amy Taeuber (right) with her twin sister Sophie.
Amy Taeuber (right) with her twin sister Sophie. Supplied

While the circumstances of her complaint are different, reading Taeuber's story this week I was reminded of an interview I conducted while writing my book, Not Just Lucky. The book chronicles how ingrained sexist attitudes still exist in Australian workplaces and includes a chapter that exposes the horrifying - and horrifyingly widespread - experiences of women who've been sexually harassed or assaulted on the job.

The interview was with a young woman around the same age as Amy Taeuber, who was the target of physical harassment when she was felt up by a senior male colleague during a work Christmas party. He was an established, influential and respected figure in the office. She worked part-time in the marketing department and had been employed for less than a year.

In the moment the assault happened, she didn't know what to do. "I felt sick immediately. I'm a pretty confident person and usually if someone does something that upsets me, I'd say stop. But at first I didn't do anything … I think because he was my boss. He was someone I wanted approval from but not that kind of approval.".

"For men in those higher positions at work, you have everyone pandering to them. So you have this sense of entitlement because you can ask people to do things for you. You can ask that girl to get you coffee. You can ask for exactly what you want or just take it."

That sense of entitlement is at the heart of so many workplace harassments. Men in positions of power and influence are able to take advantage of young, vulnerable women who sometimes don't even realise what is and isn't acceptable.

When you're new to the world of work - and that world is one where decisions are made and culture is shaped by the men at the top - it takes a particularly brave person to call out wrongdoing.

And while we know sexual harassment is a problem in Australian workplaces, it can be difficult to identify just how prevalent it is. Why? Because data can hardly be accurate when underreporting is the norm.

Michelle Ruiz and Lauren Ahn conducted an extensive survey for Cosmopolitan magazine in 2015 where they asked young women if they'd ever been sexually harassed at work. Sixteen per cent responded that they had. But when the questionnaire probed more deeply, it turned out that the real percentage was at least five times that.

Eighty-one per cent of women surveyed had experienced some sort of verbal harassment, including inappropriate comments or sexually suggestive jokes. Forty-four per cent said they'd been victims of unwanted physical contact or sexual advances. Twenty-five per cent had received unprompted lewd texts or emails from colleagues.

Seventy-one per cent did not report what had happened to them.

This is what makes Amy Taeuber - and my interview subject - so remarkable.

They chose to speak up.

The whole country now knows what happened to Amy Taeuber when she made an allegation. I asked my interview subject whether hers was a similar experience.

"Originally I was just going to quit. I didn't want to go back there ever," she said. "When I complained [via email] work took a really long time to respond to me and when they did it was kind of like victim blaming. They didn't want to deal with it. They wanted it to go away."

"They had been on my social media and had screenshots of what I'd posted over the weekend and said that I didn't appear upset. I was clearly okay, they seemed to be saying. I feel like no one [at work] ever believed me, which is horrible because you're basically being called a liar. To think people see you that way, as a drama queen or a gold digger or something. It's so offensive".

Now, the keyboard warriors will shout that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that when an allegation is made, it is just that, an allegation. And they're right. Seven ultimately deemed the colleague's comment not to be out of line. However it doesn't - and shouldn't - follow that the person making an allegation is a fraud until proven correct. Every victim has a right to complain and every victim deserves to be taken seriously and have their complaint responded to with sensitivity.

I don't know what happened at Channel Seven, but in my experience it is rare for victims to be taken seriously. Over and over again women's stories are disbelieved and discredited in workplaces, by the media and by the community. The result is that women are scared into silence. We begin to doubt ourselves, and one another. We lose faith in the workplace structures and in the legal systems that are supposedly designed to protect us. Inevitably, many women choose the less painful, the less vulnerable and the less exposed path of staying silent instead.

Bravo to the women who find the strength to speak up. They do so not just for themselves but also for the countless others who for whatever reason weren't in a position to complain. This makes them, truly, remarkable.

Jamila Rizvi is writer, radio presenter and news.com.au columnist. Her first book, Not Just Lucky is available now. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Topics:  channel 7 editors picks sacking sexual harassment

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