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Sexual harassment

8-minute read

If you feel unsafe or think you have been sexually assaulted, call triple zero (000). If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try calling 112.

Key facts

  • Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or behaviour.
  • If you are being sexually harassed, it can impact on your life mentally and physically.
  • If you and another person consent to a sexual behaviour, including flirting, this is not sexual harassment.
  • Sexual harassment is against the law in Australia, and it is everyone’s right to live free of harassment.
  • If you are a victim of sexual harassment, you can report it and get support.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment covers a range of unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour. Sexual harassment is sexual behaviour that can make a person feel:

  • ashamed
  • offended
  • humiliated
  • intimidated
  • frightened
  • in pain

It includes a person or group:

  • making sexual jokes, comments or gestures that are offensive or make you feel uncomfortable
  • insulting you sexually
  • asking, emailing or texting you for sexual favours
  • staring at parts of your body, such as your breasts or genitals
  • asking intrusive questions about your sex life
  • showing or sending you pornographic or offensive material
  • displaying sexual material, such as posters or screensavers

It also includes a person or group:

  • touching or grabbing your body in an unwanted way
  • demanding you have sex with them

Sexual harassment includes indecent or sexual assault.

In Australia, sexual harassment is illegal under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984. This includes when you are:

  • at work
  • in school
  • providing goods, services or accommodation

Different states and territories also have their own laws about sexual harassment. Some types of sexual harassment, such as sexual assault, are criminal offences.

Sexual harassment does not include sexual activity you and a partner have both consented to.

What is consent?

Consent is when the people engaging in a sexual activity openly and freely agree to it. Before engaging in a sexual activity or behaviour, you should always ask for consent.

Sexual activities can include:

  • flirting
  • kissing
  • touching
  • having sex

If you give consent to a sexual activity, you can change your mind at any time.

If someone consents to one sexual act, that doesn’t mean they consent to another.

People who are affected by drugs or alcohol cannot properly give consent.

How can sexual harassment impact me?

Sexual harassment can have an impact on your mental and physical health.

Your mental health

Sexual harassment can be distressing. It can make you feel:

Being a victim of sexual harassment can lead to lower self-esteem and depression. In severe cases, it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Your physical health

Sexual harassment can cause physical symptoms, such as:

  • headaches
  • backaches
  • insomnia
  • anxious feelings, including a racing heart or upset stomach

You may also feel less productive or have trouble concentrating.

Your life

The mental and physical impact of sexual harassment can affect the rest of your life. If you are a target of sexual harassment, you may find that you are:

  • avoiding work or school
  • being less social
  • struggling with school or work

There are things you can do to protect yourself if you are being sexually harassed.

What can I do if I am being sexually harassed?

Do not tolerate sexual harassment. You have a right to work and live in an environment free of harassment.

Keep a record

It’s a good idea to keep a diary of the sexual harassment and to keep any evidence, like:

  • text messages
  • social media comments
  • emails

Tell the perpetrator to stop

If you feel safe and comfortable to, you can speak to the person who is harassing you.

You can try to resolve the situation by:

  • telling the person that their behaviour is inappropriate
  • asking them to stop

Reporting the sexual harassment

If you are being sexually harassed at school or work, you can speak with a close friend or a senior person, such as:

  • your employer
  • your manager
  • your supervisor
  • the human resources department at your workplace
  • your head teacher
  • your professor

You can ask them to take action against the person who is sexually harassing you.

If the sexual harassment happens outside of school or work, you can report it to your local police station.

You can also make a written or online complaint about sexual harassment to the Human Rights Commission.

If you feel your complaint was not dealt with properly, you can take it to:

Sexual harassment at school and in the workplace

Employers are responsible for preventing sexual harassment in organisations and schools.

Schools and workplaces should have a clear policy on sexual harassment. It should include a process for dealing with sexual harassment reports, to make sure that:

  • reports are clearly recorded and addressed fairly
  • reports are dealt with by a person with proper training
  • the person making a report is not disadvantaged
  • the person making a report is aware that they can also report to the Human Rights Commission or the police

The policy should also outline how a complaint is managed, and what action will be taken against a harasser.

Schools and workplaces should make sure that employees and students:

  • are trained to deal with sexual harassment
  • know where to find the school or organisation’s harassment policy

Resources and support

You can find more information about sexual harassment through:

If you need support or want to speak to someone about sexual harassment, you can:

For more information on how to report sexual harassment, you can:

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find sexual assault counselling in your area.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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