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What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted or uninvited behaviour that is sexual in nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Both women and men can be subjected to sexual harassment.

The behaviour does not need to be repeated or ongoing for it to be unlawful.

Flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual is not sexual harassment.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • staring or leering
  • unwelcome touching, including hugging and kissing
  • sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • intrusive questions about your private life
  • displaying screen savers or posters of a sexual nature
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages or inappropriate advances on social media
  • sending unsolicited gifts or cards that are sexual in nature
  • repeated requests for sex or persistent requests to go out on dates

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere

Sexual harassment can happen in the workplace, or in a school, university or college.

It can also happen in accommodation – for example, shared boarding houses, caravan parks, motels and hotels.

In addition, sexual harassment can happen in the provision of goods and services.

For example, shops, restaurants, or anywhere that goods and services are provided (sexual harassment can be perpetrated by customers towards staff or by staff towards customers).

Workplace sexual harassment

Importantly, workplace sexual harassment can happen anywhere in connection with work or anywhere arising out of the course of employment.

That means all work-related functions, including Christmas parties and Friday night drinks.

Sexual harassment can happen in the regular workplace, but it can also happen in bars, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, motels, conference and function centres.

It can also happen in cars, taxis and Ubers, and on social media or in text messages – even those sent after work hours.

Who can perpetrate sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by just about anyone.

For example, employers and work colleagues, students over the age of 16, room mates, and customers or staff involved in the delivery of goods and services.

The law

There is both federal and state legislation that protects all Australians from sexual harassment.

The law differs slightly from state to state, but in general terms, it is unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person in the areas of employment, education, accommodation, and in the provision of goods and services.

For more information about which legislation bests suits your circumstances, please speak to one of our employment lawyers or industrial consultants.

The impact of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can have a devastating impact on victims and can lead to a range of physical and mental health issues.

For example, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and in some cases, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Despite strict laws protecting people from sexual harassment, many victims are fearful making a formal complaint because they worry about how it will affect their job and career.

Others fear they don’t think they will be believed or taken seriously.

There is help and support available

If you are experiencing mental or physical issues relating to sexual harassment, please reach out for help.

Call a friend, or make an appointment to see your local doctor, or you can call one of the following services for support. 

Lifeline  13 11 14

1800 RESPECT  1800 737 732

QLife  1800 184 527

Beyond Blue  1300 223 636

MensLine Australia  1300 789 978

Kids Helpline  1800 551 800

How we can help

Sexual harassment is unlawful and you don’t have to put up with it.

Our team of Australian employment lawyers and industrial advocates has extensive experience fighting sexual harassment claims.

We also have a strong record negotiating substantial compensation for our clients.

Please be aware that Australian courts are now imposing significant penalties on perpetrators of sexual harassment in addition to awarding substantial compensation in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims for hurt and humiliation (shock and distress). 

We can represent you and advocate on your behalf in the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant commission or tribunal.

We can also advise you of your best options to ensure you get the outcome you are looking for.

Make no mistake, we will not give up fighting until we have achieved justice for you.

To connect with us, please follow us on


LAST UPDATED: February 2022

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