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Victims Of Sexual Harassment Need Immunity From Defamation Laws

Our defamation laws are some of the toughest in the world.

What happened to Australia's #MeToo movement?

Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations first surfaced in October last year, so many powerful and/or famous men have had allegations made against them that it's hard to keep up.

Kevin Spacey, Danny Masterson, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Ryan Seacrest, Russell Simmons, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Mario Batali, Aziz Ansari. It was an avalanche of names, with everyone from the New York Times to TMZ and previously unheard of organisations (Babe.net) rushing to publish the next bit story, the next big name.

In Australia, not so much.

Our defamation laws are some of the toughest in the world. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Defamation laws serve a really good purpose, because in everyday business people can be unfairly defamed," said Will Barsby, National Special Counsel in employment law at Shine Lawyers, to ten daily.

"But when you're dealing with sensitivity of victims, humans, who have been sexually harassed, we should treat them a little bit differently.

"There almost needs to be some sort of immunity for victims of sexual harassment or other aspects of defenses when material is published."

Australia's defamation laws -- which predate the internet and social media -- have played a part in holding up #MeToo stories being published.

Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but does put victims of harassment in a position where they could potentially be sued by their harasser if, for example, they post on social media.

"What we see in sexual harassment is that these victims are psychologically damaged and they use social media as an outlet to repair themselves and share their story, because they feel safe to do so," said Barsby.

"We should isolate them [from defamation laws] to make sure that they're not then the victim of further legal proceedings at the hands of their alleged perpetrator."

The Australian Human Rights Commission has launched a $900,000, year long inquiry into workplace sexual harassment.

Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer and sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins on Wednesday. Photo: Twitter.

AHRC sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins on Wednesday -- alongside Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer -- said the inquiry promises to lift the lid on exactly how rampant workplace sexual harassment is, and what's allowing it to continue.

That includes everything from the role social media plays to the economic impact of harassment -- which, Barsby says, might be the thing that finally forces larger corporations to actually enact on the zero tolerance policies they claim.

"Big business only responds when they see the bottom line," he said.

Although O'Dwyer would not be drawn into speculating what recommendations the government would implement, the $500,000 contribution in federal funding does give hope that this inquiry will bring about significant change.

"No one should have to suffer sexual harassment at work, or in any other part of their lives," she said on Wednesday.