An Inquiry into the Cost of Workplace Sexual Harassment

An Inquiry into the Cost of Workplace Sexual Harassment.  Over twelve months, at a cost of about $900 000.

“Recent prominent international and national coverage has highlighted the prevalence and detrimental impact of sexual harassment on individuals and organisations. This inquiry will be a positive and meaningful step forward in reducing sexual harassment at work and ensuring that, where it does occur, it is dealt with carefully and appropriately,” Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Women said this morning.  “The inquiry will draw on economic modelling so we will have a better sense of how much it is costing individual Australians as well as Australian businesses.”


I don’t think there should be an inquiry like this one, and the fact that there is an indication of just how bad our society has become.

Not because I don’t think that sexual harassment is a problem, or because I don’t think it has a significant impact on people at work.

I don’t think we should have an inquiry like this one, because the outcome should make no difference at all.  It shouldn’t make any difference whether the cost to the economy is a hundred dollars, or 4 billion.  This is an issue of morality, of right and wrong, and not a matter of economics.  As soon as we quantify morality in terms of dollars, we set a precedent for deciding that we shouldn’t bother about harassment because the cost of it isn’t that great.

Don’t we instinctively recoil from questions about whether the cost of giving someone cancer treatment is worth it or not? Wasn’t an argument against the abolition of slavery the fact that it would cost the economy too much?

Money should not be the way we measure something that is immoral.

The fact that many people think this is a good way to approach the issue tells us our leaders and press think that a big abstract dollar figure will motivate people to change individual behaviour (it won’t).  It also tells us that people think the value of everything can be determined by dollars.

Morality isn’t about dollars.  More or less cost doesn’t make something more or less wrong.  The value of a human being is that they are created in the image of God.  Sexually harassing someone denies that there is intrinsic value in that person beyond what you can get out of them for your own pleasure.  The economic cost doesn’t change that, and only acts to confuse the issue in people’s minds.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t an economic cost.  Sin will always have a cost, and it will often have a financial component.  But the way to correct the error, to fix the problem, is not to aim at the wallet, but at the heart.  And the only way to do that is to transform the way we see people, and see them as God created them.  With the dignity, value and worth that comes from being created in the image of God.

It is only by looking to Jesus, who reveals God fully, and not by looking at the balance sheet, will we deal with this sin.


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