Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment – What You Need to Know

Sexual harassment, as defined by the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, is a form of sexual discrimination. Sexual harassment can come in many forms, but can roughly be defined as any unwanted, unwelcome or unwarranted sexual behaviour which makes you feel hurt, upset or even intimidated.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, it is against the law to sexually harass another person across a number of areas. These include education, employment and the provision of goods, services and accommodation.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment covers both sexes, physical and verbal gestures and extended or one-off suggestions. Common forms of sexual harassment include:

  • asking for sex,
  • physical or sexual assault,
  • sexual insults or taunts,
  • suggestive comments, and
  • deliberately touching or ‘brushing up against’ someone.

All of the above is unlawful, and if you’ve experienced it yourself in the workplace, or at school or university, you should seek legal advice.

What areas does sexual harassment law cover?

The workplace

Unfortunately, sexual harassment still occurs in the workplace. 88% of the complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act between 2009 and 2010 were directly related to sexual discrimination at work.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be committed or experienced by anyone, it doesn’t matter what your role is or how senior or junior you are in a company.


Schools and universities are also workplaces, and the Act also extends to them. It is illegal for teachers or students over the age of 16 to sexually harass students. It is also an offence for students over the age of 16 to harass teachers.

Provision of goods and services

If you’ve been sexually harassed:

  • while in a shop, restaurant or sports club,
  • while catching public transport or a taxi,
  • while trying to buy or sell a house,
  • while trying to rent a hotel room or apartment, or
  • while dealing with a government employee,

you could also have a case for sexual harassment.

The Sex Discrimination Act doesn’t apply to sexual harassment that occurs generally in public or at someone’s house. However, if the offence is serious enough, you might be able to pursue a sexual assault charge under Australian criminal law.

If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not you’ve experienced sexual harassment, speak up and ask for help – the law provides for it.

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