Not So Hospitable: A Harrowing Look at Sexual Harassment in Adelaide’s Hospo Scene

<p>Illustration: Nick Connellan</p>
Illustration: Nick Connellan ·
Two years ago, Jamie Bucirde started an Instagram account to share stories of harassment and assault in Adelaide’s hospitality scene. Now, armed with a published academic paper, she’s lobbying for industry reform to make workplaces safer – particularly for young women.

In the hospitality industry, bad behaviour of all stripes is often an open secret. Perpetrators are known, but protected by their position, victims’ fear and other factors. Sexologist and Adelaide hospo veteran Jamie Bucirde was tired of seeing these conversations swept under the rug.

In 2022 she launched a website and Instagram account, Not So Hospitable, encouraging people to anonymously share their stories of sexual assault and harassment in the hospitality industry. She received 56 responses in the first 17 hours.

After two months she had 359 harrowing testimonies, overwhelmingly submitted by young women. She took her findings to industry and government representatives to push for change. They told her that to be taken seriously, she’d need to come back with a published academic report, rather than Instagram DMs. Not one to back down from a challenge, Bucirde got in touch with two academics at the University of Melbourne – research fellow Anna Edwards and Professor Bianca Fileborn – and in May 2024 the trio published exactly that.

Her report on the Adelaide hospitality industry reveals some difficult truths:
• 94 per cent of victim-survivors were under the age of 21, 44 per cent were 16–18, and 33 per cent were 15 and under;
• 48 per cent of victim-survivors said nothing was done by management after reporting, 29 per cent said they felt they couldn’t report, and eight per cent said their shifts were cut or they were fired;
• 57 per cent of accounts involved sexual harassment and 41 per cent involved sexual assault;
• Of the reported perpetrators, 23 per cent were venue managers, 22 per cent were patrons, 19 per cent were venue owners, 16 per cent were fellow staff members and 15 per cent were chefs;

• 94 per cent of accounts came from staff members;
• 89 per cent of victim-survivors identified as female and 97 per cent of perpetrators were reported to be male.

The report arrives at a potentially pivotal moment for the wider Australian hospitality industry. Similar Instagram accounts have just launched in Melbourne and Sydney calling out alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment and/or assault by name, something Not So Hospitable doesn’t do. That the people behind such accounts are willing to risk Australia’s famously strict defamation laws suggests a latent sense of powerlessness and injustice in the ranks of the industry.

Bucirde sat down with Broadsheet to talk about her report, and how patrons, media and the government can do more to help make hospo safer. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a sexologist by degree and career. On top of that, I worked in a hospitality space for 14 years. My family owned a venue, and we had an alcohol company that I kind of helped build so … I have a really quite deep understanding of the culture of hospitality across the board, in terms of venues and the different types of culture within those different venues, and especially … as a young woman. I’ve had my own personal experiences of harassment and assault whilst working.

Two years ago I started gathering testimony of Adelaide-based hospitality workers’ experiences of harassment and assault. It came [after] an article that was published where a venue owner was taken to court for raping one of his female staff members. He was found guilty and he went to prison. I shared the article and kind of spoke to my own experiences within that space.

Because I worked in hospitality, I had many friends in hospitality and they started resharing their experiences as well. When it got to the 20- or 30-person mark I thought, “There needs to be a place where people can give their testimony in a safe environment, where it is listened to … there needs to be a [place] they can go where these lived experiences matter.”

Were you shocked by the amount of testimonies you got within a two-month period?
I guess I was. It didn’t really surprise me because I knew that so many of my friends had those experiences. But seeing how big it got so quickly was a surprise. It also showed me that there was a need for a place where people could have these conversations and feel safe and comfortable but also a need for someone to advocate in this space.

Why was it so important for you to turn it into an academic study with hard data attached?
When I started identifying many people experiencing sexual harassment whilst at work – we’re talking about people having these experiences with other hospitality workers or venue owners – I understood that there were a lot of power dynamics at play. There were also a lot of clear, identifiable issues in terms of lack of reporting structures – and a lot of corruption, where these venues know about these incidents and they either brush it under the rug or do nothing.

It’s a really unregulated industry, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons so many people do experience [assault and harassment].

When I started gathering these numbers and trying to promote the need for accessible education and mandating education for hospitality workers across the board, I got a lot of pushback from people in positions of power and government bodies saying that the work wasn’t very credible because it wasn’t academically published. So I went “Okay, you know what? Fine, we’ll turn it into a real paper, if that’s what you need, for this to be taken seriously.”

One thing really struck me from reading the paper is how many of the victim-survivors are women under the age of 18 in relation to the age and power positions of the perpetrators. Does that power imbalance make things particularly perverse?
Definitely. I mean it wasn’t surprising to me to see that 89 per cent of the victims were female, but it’s important to be able to see those numbers and talk to the gender inequality within that space. And when 97 per cent of the perpetrators are male, there’s a really clear line of who the victims are and who the perpetrators are.

Then you also take into consideration their age and the underage grooming that was discovered within this research. No one should ever be sexually harassed at work, but there’s a way bigger issue when these people are starting work at ages 13 or 14, then getting raped or assaulted or harassed by their older bosses or managers … If the person who is perpetrating this type of behaviour is your boss or your manager, then you have nowhere to go, you have no one to report it to. There are so many more barriers in place, in an already underregulated industry. I mean, it’s not even [necessary] for people to have working with children checks, which blows my mind.

I think that the power dynamics of what I found, and the abuse of power and exploitation of staff, really calls for a total reform of the industry and for us to have a new professional standard. There needs to be best practice in terms of how to prevent this type of behaviour. Look at the changing landscapes and laws like positive duty.

Essentially, positive duty means, under the Sex Discrimination Act, that now all Australian workplaces legally have to be proactive instead of reactive in terms of navigating harassment at work. So now, if someone gets harassed or assaulted in their workplace or in a hospitality venue, they can actually go to court and they can hold the venue liable if they didn’t do anything. That means workplaces now have a legal responsibility to not only react to harassment but to be preventative. They need to be educating their staff, they need to bring in external training, they need strong policies, they need strong reporting structures and, if they don’t, they’ll be held liable. And that’s great, but if laws are being changed and there’s no support from our governments for venues to be able to do that, it’s never going to get done.

What about the Instagram pages that have popped up in Sydney and Melbourne, publicly sharing allegations about hospitality figures. What role do you think these accounts play?
I think that it’s creating awareness and building communities. I think there’s a reason people get that far that they have to publicly share testimonies of harassment and assault for it to be heard.

People all across Australia – myself included, Adelaide included – have tried to talk to this issue for so long and no one is really taking it seriously, and the industry leaders and bodies aren’t taking it seriously now. It really takes public outcry [and] promoting testimony, but it’s important to get the message across. It’s just unfortunate that it has to be taken that far from the people who are experiencing it just for them to be heard.

[These accounts are] bringing people together, because it’s also showing other hospitality workers that, one, they’re not alone in their experience; two, it’s so normalised within our industry; and, three, it’s not the way that it should be … We need to work together to really build a new standard for the industry. But it’s honestly going to take more than just industry leaders, who need to put their money where their mouth is and not only acknowledge there’s a change, but be an active part in positive change. There also needs to be a lot of work between these businesses and our government, because our government needs to support and fund initiatives to train our venues, because it’s such a human-facing industry.

You mention there needs to be change across the whole industry. How can Broadsheet and the media more generally hold people accountable and help make hospo a safer place?
I think there needs to be more representation of these kind of issues. I think being able to do articles like this continues to keep the message going. And media has a big part to play in terms of putting pressure on our government. I think education is also key, and I think the media [can help with that too].

It’s also shining light on the right people and making sure we’re giving a really diverse representation of this industry – not only the ones who own the groups, who are male-dominated and only employ men in positions of power. There’s a lot of spotlight given to those groups, which contribute a lot to this type of behaviour. I think that we need to see a more diverse range of voices – especially female voices, especially people of colour, especially queer people – promoted as well, because they’re the ones that are statistically at a far higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment.

And how can patrons, and people who love going out to eat, help make positive change?
Be aware of which venues you’re going to … and which venues actually give a shit about the wellbeing of their staff. The consumer has a lot of power, so going in and stating, “I won’t spend money in your venue unless I know you’re training your staff adequately. Are they safe? Do you treat them well? Are they being harassed at work? Are you doing something about it?” – that speaks volumes as well. If every customer starts doing that and starts really prioritising only supporting venues that treat their staff well, that’s also going to push the other kind of venues in the right direction, because they’re not going to have a choice.

Also just sending letters to your local MPs, to council and to government pushing for things like changing the RSA [responsible service of alcohol] model to include sexual violence awareness and bystander intervention training for all hospitality staff. That’s just been passed in ACT and NSW as a result of lobbying from What Were You Wearing, and I’m trying to lobby for that in South Australia.

It takes everyone coming together to write letters and to create campaigns to put pressure on the government. [They] won’t care about the issue until people make enough noise about it.

If you would like to speak with someone about an experience you have had, or would like information, please call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au. Not So Hospitable has also listed a number of local resources on its website. You can also alert Broadsheet to misbehaviour of any kind in the hospitality industry via report@broadsheet.com.au. We cannot act on specific tips, but your valuable information may inform future coverage.

www.notsohospitable.com.au
@notsohospitable

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