Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is against the law. You do not have to put up with it and it’s ok to complain.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is different to sexual assault, but both are illegal.

Sexual harassment is any sexual behaviour which offends you, or makes you feel humiliated or intimidated. This could include unwelcome:

  • Sexual advances: such as staring, or unwelcome touching, repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates;
  • Requests for sexual favours: such as suggestive comments or jokes; and
  • Sexual behaviour aimed at you or in your presence: this can be spoken or in writing, for example through SMS texting, Facebook or by displaying unwanted sexual posters or screensavers. This includes intrusive questions about your private life.

For behaviour to be sexual harassment it must be unwelcome, that means that you don’t want it to happen. So behaviour of a sexual nature which you agree to, such as flirting isn’t sexual harassment.

Where can sexual harassment happen?

It is against the law to be sexually harassed in the following situations:

  • At work - such as by your boss or other people you work with
  • At school - such as by a teacher or a student
  • When you are buying or selling goods or services– such as when you are in a restaurant or if you are catching a taxi
  • When you are looking for accommodation
  • When you are a member of a club such as a sporting or social club
  • When you are dealing with a person working for the Australian government

If you experience sexual harassment in another situation, for example, in a park or at a friend’s house, you aren’t able to make a sexual harassment complaint. Criminal law may protect you from this kind of behaviour if it amounts to sexual assault. See the Physical and Sexual Assault Fact Sheet on the NT Lawstuff page on Sexual Assault for more information.

What is the difference between sexual harassment and sex discrimination?

Sex discrimination happens when you are treated less fairly than another person because for example of your sex, marital status or pregnancy. Sexual harassment is also a form of sex discrimination. For more information on discrimination see our Lawstuff page on Discrimination.

What do I do if I am sexually harassed?

You should do the following:

1. If it is possible, tell the offender verbally or in writing that their behaviour is offensive and unacceptable and that you want it to stop it immediately. If this isn’t possible, you should discuss it with a person who is in charge, such as your work supervisor, or teacher.

2. You should keep a written record of everything that has happened, when it occurred and the names of any people who saw what happened.

3. If the incident is serious enough to be sexual assault, you should call your local police station to report the issue. If you are unsure then it is okay to call the police to find out. For guidance see our Lawstuff page on Sexual Assault.

4. Depending on where the harassment occurs there may be guidelines or a policy which you need to follow to report what has happened and make a complaint. For example:

  • Workplace - most workplaces will have a sexual harassment policy which will outline the complaint procedure.
  • School – The NT Department of Education and Children’s Services has a policy for sexual harassment which applies to all territory schools. Schools may also have their own policy on complaints procedures for sexual harassment which can be accessed by students.

5. If the issue is still not resolved you have the right to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission which is run by the Commonwealth government and to the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

6. You should seek advice as to which is the most appropriate for your complaint as the Commonwealth law is different from the territory law.  You generally must make a complaint to the NT Commissioner no more than 6 months after the harassment happened. You can also make a complaint to the Australian Commission no more than 12 months after the harassment happened. It is free to make a complaint. You can find out more about making a complaint using the contact details listed below.

7. If you complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission or to the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner and the matter is not resolved, you can take the matter to court on your own.

You may feel scared about making a complaint, but it is important to know that it is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly or harm you because you made a complaint against them. If that happens, they can be fined or imprisoned. It is against the law for someone to treat you or threaten to treat you unfairly or harm you because you made a complaint against them.

Tell someone

Sexual harassment is unacceptable and you should speak to your parents or another adult that you trust. If you do not speak to someone, or report what happened, then no one will know what is going on and they can’t help you. We have provided you with a list of important contacts to call at the end of this fact sheet if you would like to talk to someone else.

Important contacts

For any legal questions you have, write us a Lawmail and we can give you free legal advice, information and referrals to local services. 

Where else can I get help?


Contact Details

Time Limit for Making a Complaint

Australian Human Rights Commission

1300 656 419



Generally within 12 months

NT Anti-Discrimination Board

1800 813 846 (free call)


Generally within 6 months











Disclaimer: This is legal information not advice specific to you. If you would like specific advice about a legal question that you have please send us a Lawmail.

This information was last reviewed on 6 November 2012. 

  Insert text regarding ALL STATES here.
  You can choose to insert either:
     · Content that directly applies to ALL STATES of Australia.
     · A footnote that will be seen below the existing content of each state.