A new report finds nearly half of young retail workers report being sexually harassed.

A survey of more than 3,000 people by the Australian Human Rights Commission young workers in the retail and fast food workers are the most likely to be sexually harassed.

Female retail workers under 30 years old make up 46 per cent of all victims. Of those who reported being sexually harassed, they reported it happening seven times in the past year.

First-hand examples reported by survey respondents include:

  • “Customers have threatened to rape me in the car park.”
  • “Wearing a name badge also makes it easy for predators to look us up online.”
  • “I was asked yesterday by a customer what condoms I use with my boyfriend.”
  • “Having a customer with his hands down his pants whilst looking at me down the aisle.”
  • “My harasser sits outside my work in the food court and watches me.”
  • “I had a guy continuously come into the store to see me and he followed all my social media accounts and sent and said really sexual things to me. I was 15 at the time.”
  • “I tried to give him change and he tried to grab my hand and somewhere else.”
  • “I've had customers reach out and touch my name badge so they can brush their hand on my breast.”

The Human Rights Commission conducted the survey for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) union.

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins says sexual harassment is a community-wide problem.

“Young people [are] still growing up in a community where gender inequality exists, where sexism exists, where social media images really value women and girls for how they look,” she said.

“It really calls out retail and fast food outlets to start looking at the behaviour of customers and [to] make sure the young workers know that they can speak up.”

SDA national assistant secretary Julia Fox says trespass laws should be reformed so that businesses can ban problem customers.

She says businesses make themselves vulnerable to workplace injury claims and reputational damage by not responding.

“We have dropped the ball and it's time employers really focused on this issue,” she said.

The forms of harassment included:

  • Suggestive comments or jokes that made people feel offended (26 per cent)
  • Intrusive questions (21 per cent),
  • Leering (17 per cent)
  • Unwelcome touching (10 per cent)
  • Inappropriate contact (7 per cent)
  • Being followed (6 per cent)
  • Repeated invitations for dates (4 per cent)

Three-quarters of incidents took place at an employee's work station, such as a cash register or food preparation area.

There were also frequent mentions of hands being touched or grabbed through drive-through windows.

Ms Fox said retail workers swap name tags with co-workers to avoid identification.

“I think we need to address the reasons workers are feeling unsafe then issues like name badges won't be so important.”