The board of the Sovereign Hill Museums Association will launch a fresh investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at the leading tourist attraction, revealed exclusively in The Courier earlier this week.
At an extraordinary meeting on Thursday night, the board resolved to pursue a new investigation, saying The Courier’s reporting had revealed ‘specific acts of a sexual nature… not previously raised as part of any investigation.’
The Courier has published the testimonies of three women who have worked at Sovereign Hill, alleging they had reported sexual assaults and harassment by a specific male employee.
The accounts go back a decade, and include detailed descriptions of the employee’s behaviour towards them. Amongst the accusations are physical assaults, including groping and grabbing, intrusions into staff dressing rooms, taking photographs of staff changing their costumes, and the employee exposing his erect penis to women, in some cases causing it to be touched.
Sovereign Hill CEO Jeremy Johnson has said the organisation will conduct a review of its harassment and discrimination policies and procedures.
The Courier has spoken to a number of current and former employees of Sovereign Hill who complain of a unofficial workplace culture which demeans women and favours men. They allege an ‘old boy’ network prevents their claims of harassment from being pursued thoroughly, and that some male staff engage in predatory behaviour.
Previous investigations conducted by Sovereign Hill saw the employee placed on a ‘first and final warning’ for making ‘inappropriate comments’. Referred to as ‘Employee X’ in The Courier’s reporting, the man has been employed by Sovereign Hill for approximately 10 years.
One allegation made against Employee X is that he approached a female staff member in a change room while she was unaware, and grabbed her breasts when she turned to see him.
“He groped my breasts, he grabbed them... when I turned around, he grabbed them, squeezed them, gave like a little laugh and said, ‘I know I can get away with this because it's you'. And then had a little laugh,” said the employee.
“Why don’t they believe us?” said one of the accusers.
Minister for Regional Development Jaala Pulford said she was appalled by the revelations in The Courier.
“I applaud the courage of women in any workplace who take a stand against a culture of sexual harassment and assault,” said Ms Pulford, “These reports are nothing short of gut-wrenching, and I hope and expect the board and management at Sovereign Hill to address both the individual cases and the broader culture with the utmost urgency."
Member for Ballarat West Sharon Knight echoed the minister’s concerns.
“The allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of staff at Sovereign Hill are distressing and have shocked our community, said Ms Knight, “It is important that these serious allegations are investigated, and I will take great interest in the outcome of any investigations. Everyone, including people who work at Sovereign Hill, has a right to be safe at work.”
A Victoria Police investigation into the allegations is continuing.