How to know if you’re being sexually harassed

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What is sexual harassment:
  • Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, embarrassed, or intimidated. 
  • Sexual harassment is not mutual. 
  • Sexual harassment in not consensual. 
  • Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. 
  • Sexual harassment can be both physical or mental. 
  • It can occur between people of the same sex or people of different sex. 


The Australian Human Right Commission sets out several examples of what sexual harassment looks like:

  • Staring or leering.
  • Unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching.
  • Suggestive comments or jokes.
  • Insults or taunts of a sexual nature.
  • Intrusive questions or statements about your private life.
  • Displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature.
  • Sending sexually explicit emails or text messages.
  • Inappropriate advances on social networking sites.
  • Accessing sexually explicit internet sites.
  • Requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates.
  • Behaviour that may also be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications.

What is the law and what does it say?

  • The Sexual Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984 deals with sexual discrimination.
  • It covers sexual discrimination in the following circumstances:
    • The workplace
      • This can include physically or verbal sexual harassment.
      • It can also include sexual harassment that takes place by way of technology such as; social media, text, email, as well as other forms of technology.
    • Education
      • This section makes it unlawful for:
        • A teacher or a student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a student.
        • A student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a teacher.
    • The provision of goods and services and,
    • Accommodation

Sexual harassment complaints in the work place made up 21% of all the complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

What can you do if you are being sexually harassed?

If you feel you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, or in any other environment for that matter you should take the following steps:

  1. Talk to a family member or trusted friend outside the workplace or environment where the sexual harassment has taken place. Sexual harassment can severely affect the victim and for this reason talking to someone you trust is import to help you cope with the harassment and may help you decide what to do next.

  2. Report the incident/incidents to your Human Recourses team/manager 
    Note: If your manager is the one sexually harassing you go straight to the Human Resources manager.

  3. Record as much information as you can. Try and record time, place, how you felt, who witnessed the event, keep any online communications that indicate sexual harassment. This will help you later if you decide to make a claim.
    Note: Under the Sexual Discrimination Act, your employer can be liable to pay compensation if they have failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment.

  4. Make a complaint to the Australian Human Right Commission within 12 months of the harassment occurring.
    Note: The Commission has the power to investigate such complaints.

  5. Contact a lawyer for legal assistance with a Workers’ Compensation Claim and or a claim for Damages under the Sexual Discrimination Act which now allows for substantial compensation.

For more information please contact Garling & Co Lawyers on (02) 8518 1120 or email Matthew Garling at

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