The recent spate of reported allegations of rape and sexual assaults at WA mine sites including BHP and Fortescue Metals Group is alarming.
The allegations are serious giving rise to the parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment of women in the FIFO mining industry. The allegations raise serious questions on how to better protect women in the workplace and more generally on how men and women interact on remote mine sites.
What is Sexual Assault?
The question then is what is sexual assault? Sexual assault occurs when a person without their consent is forced or coerced or even conned into performing various sexual acts. In other words, sexual assault is the application of sexual force without consent – by direct person to person contact or object to a person – provided that contact was intended to be sexual of a nature.
Excluded Constitute Sexual Assault
There are other unwanted sexual behaviours that do not constitute sexual assault such as leering, sexual pressure, sexually suggestive comments and jokes, uninvited (non-sexual) touching or watching pornography in public.
The range of behaviours complained about range from rape through to one woman complaining that men often looked her way as she walked down the street describing the experience as “a micro-rape every time she goes out of the house.”
Industry leaders and government authorities have their work cut out addressing how to protect women and in this case in the WA FIFO mining industry. It also raises issues surrounding men either being accused of a sexual act or behaviour when it turns out nothing of the sort happened — the allegation is withdrawn by either the complainant or the prosecution or the man is acquitted after trial.
Bearing in mind that at the very suggestion of an alleged sexual assault the alleged perpetrator is publicly named and invariably sacked on the spot. The financial burden on the accused as well as the strain on his reputation is lasting, even when acquitted.
What to Do if Accused of Making the Allegation?
Anyone accused of sexual abuse or alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour must first all exercise their right to silence and then arrange to see a competent criminal lawyer. Most importantly, if you are the person making the allegation then go straight to the police. The police are equipped with the knowledge and investigative powers to investigate the matter to determine whether the alleged behaviour constitutes a sexual offence or merely poor taste.
So far we do not have laws preventing one person from looking at another person irrespective of their gender.