Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual behaviour which offends you, or makes you feel humiliated or intimidated. It’s also against the law. 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.
To hear and read about some example cases of sexual harassment, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website:
You can also check out this video below from to learn more about sexual harassment and where to draw the line:
Yes. Sexual harassment is against the law. You do not have to put up with it and it’s ok to complain. Remember, no one deserves or asks to be sexually harassed. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment. It’s also against the law for someone including an employer to take action against you (for example firing you or demoting you) because you make a complaint about sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can also be a crime including sexual or indecent assault. Indecent assault is when someone touches your body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without your consent. For more information on sexual assault, please see our Sexual Assault fact sheet for more information.
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, or buying or renting a house or apartment;
- 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;
- When you are looking for a job.
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 or indecent assault. See our factsheet on Sexual Assault for more information.
Sex discrimination happens when you are treated less fairly than another person because for example of your sex, marital status or pregnancy. It can happen at work, shopping, at school or in other situations. While sexual harassment can be a form of sex discrimination, it’s not always. For more information on discrimination see our Lawstuff page on Discrimination.
You have lots of options. You can do the following:
1. Tell them to stop: 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 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. Keep a written record: you should keep a written record of everything that has happened, when it happened and the names of any people who saw what happened. You can keep notes in your phone if you want.
3. Get some support: if someone has sexually or indecently assaulted you, you can call 1800 RESPECT to talk about your situation. They can help you with things like reporting to the police. You can also call your local police station to report what happened. For more information on sexual assault and who you can talk to, please visit our Lawstuff page on Sexual Assault.
4. Make a complaint to your employer or school: 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:
a. Workplace - most workplaces will have a sexual harassment policy which will outline the complaint procedure.
b. 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. Make a complaint to the Government: 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.
You should seek advice as to which is the most appropriate for your complaint as the Commonwealth law is different from the territory law. Also, depending on where you make your complaint to, there are different time limits.
You generally must make a complaint to the NT Commissioner no more than 6 months after the harassment happened, or within 12 months if you make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is free to make a complaint. You can find out more about making a complaint using the contact details listed below. If you’re under 25, you can send us a Lawmail and we can explain what your options are. If you’re over 25, you can call Legal Aid on 1800 019 343. If you make a complaint and the matter is not resolved by the Commissions, 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.
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.
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?
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, you can call 1800 RESPECT to talk to a counsellor. You can also call the Human Rights Commission or NT Anti-Discrimination Board to find out how to make a complaint. You can find their details below.
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
You may copy and use this fact sheet.
This page was last updated 23 February 2015.
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