(Content Warning: This story discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault. If the story is upsetting, we advise you stop reading immediately and reach out to a member of your support team)

Did you know that 70% of Australian workers have suffered sexual harassment at some point in their working lives? It’s something that affects the majority of us, but no one likes to talk about. However, Kimberley, an HSA member in Victoria, did speak up about her sexual harassment, and is urging more people in the industry to do the same.

When Kimberley started her apprenticeship fresh out of high school, she was so keen, she travelled 90 minutes each way from Belgrave to Port Melbourne to get to work. “I made sure to get myself there 30 minutes early to open up and make sure everything was right,” she tells us.

But the rose-tinted glasses quickly fell off. After being denied annual leave and time to go to the doctor, and having her hourly pay reduced from $10 to $6, Kimberley left.

She found herself in a string of dishonest salons that bullied her and refused to provide her legal entitlements. Seeking guidance in her hairstyling career, Kimberley moved into a traineeship course and when she was qualified, to a Port Melbourne salon where she was again paid $10 an hour, cash in hand.

“It was probably the worst job I ever worked,” she remembers. “They propositioned me, and asked me to marry a friend of theirs so he could get into Australia. I quit that and took them to Fair Work.”

At the next job, harassment became assault at the hands of a staff member. “He undid my bra,” Kim says, “saying I shouldn’t wear one. He told me to wear low-cut tops and shorter skirts.”

“The boss found it funny.”

It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, but both are illegal, both need to be reported – and both are more widespread than people will admit.

It’s growing. In the last five years, one in three women and one in five men said they were sexually harassed in the workplace, 30% higher than a previous study in 2012. Just 17% of cases were reported. Unsurprisingly, harassment is even higher in traditionally female-dominated industries.

It feels sometimes like it’s better to just shut up and take it; that there’s nobody to tell; that it will die down eventually; that it’s not worth having your name out there as a troublemaker and risk being unemployable. The code of silence around sexual harassment is incredibly pervasive and hard to break.

It’s been this way for a long time, but things are finally moving in the right direction. The #metoo and #timesup movements, which started several years ago in Hollywood and spread around the world, have shown us two things.

One, that sexual harassment and assault isn’t about desire. It’s part of a wider, systemic abuse of power that is seen at every level, whether you’re a millionaire A-list celeb or an apprentice just out of high school. It can happen to anyone, and it’s never because you’re ‘asking for it’.

Two, that when people do speak up, things really change. It only took a few women to share their experiences before the floodgates opened and sparked an online revolution. Everywhere, now, women and men are telling their stories about harassment and assault and making their voices head.

It’s time hair styling did the same. When it comes to sexual harassment, you have rights. Workers in Australia are protected by the Human Rights Commission, the Sexual Discrimination Act, and the Fair Work Act. All cases of assault need to go straight to the police.

And at HSA, our legal experts know employment law inside and out and can help you put together a case against an abusive staff member or employer. So if you are suffering from harassment at work, we urge you to get in touch, and we can help you take that next step. Chances are, at your salon, you’re not the only one.

For Kimberley, she’s finally at a salon that treats her right. It’s not enough hours, but she’s too scared to leave and run the gauntlet of another bad employer. She had the courage to speak up about her situation, and asks more hair stylists to do the same.

“This kind of thing used to happen in every industry, from sparkies and wharfies, all the way up to lawyers and doctors,” she says. “They all came together and said enough is enough, and worked as a team to get better results not only for themselves, but their whole industry.”

If you’re suffering from sexual harassment or assault and need immediate support reach out to 1800 Respect or a similar organisation who can help.

1800 RESPECT
Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence counselling phone and webchat. Free 24/7
1800respect.org.au
Phone: 1800 737 732