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Sexual Harassment

Western Australia

What is sexual harassment?

Is sexual harassment against the law?

Where can sexual harassment happen?

What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual discrimination?

What can I do if I have been sexually harassed?

Important contacts 


What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual behaviour which offends you, or makes you feel humiliated or intimidated.  It’s against the law. It can include unwelcome:

  • Sexual advances: such as staring, unwelcome touching  or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates;
  • Requests for sexual favours: such as suggestive comments or jokes;
  • Sexual behaviour aimed at you or in your presence: such as any unwelcome gesture, action or comment of a sexual nature. This can be spoken or in writing,  for example through SMS texting, Facebook or by displaying unwanted sexual posters or screensavers. 

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, is not sexual harassment.

To hear and read about some example cases of sexual harassment, visit the Australian Human Right’s Commission website.

You can also check out this video below from to learn more about sexual harassment and where to draw the line:

Is sexual harassment against the law?

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, like an employer, to take action again you (for example firing you or demoting you) because you make a complaint about sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can also be a crime such 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.


Where can sexual harassment happen?

It’s 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 or uni – such as by a teacher  or by another 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, like a hotel  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. But the criminal law may protect you from this kind of behaviour if it amounts to sexual assault or indecent assault.  If this has happened, see the Sexual Assault Fact Sheet on the WA Lawstuff page 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.  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 Discrimination.


What can I do if I am sexually harassed?

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 formal 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 process for making a complaint. 

b.    School – the Department of Education Western Australia has a policy for sexual harassment which applies to all state schools. Schools may also have their own policy on complaints procedures for sexual harassment which can be accessed by students.

5.    Make a formal complaint to the government: if the issue is still not resolved, or if didn’t happen at work or school, you have the right to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission which is run by the Commonwealth government and to the WA Equal Opportunity Commission which is run by the state government.

You get advice as to which is the most appropriate for your complaint as the Commonwealth law is slightly different to the state law. You generally must make the complaint no more than 12 months after the harassment happened.   It is free to make a complaint. You can find out more about this by contacting the Commissions using the contact details listed below.

If you make a formal complaint and the matter is not resolved,  you may have the option to go to a tribunal or court hearing.  

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.


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 confidentially.

Important contacts

Where else can I get help?

If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, you can call 1800 RESPECT to talk to counsellor.   You can also call the Human Rights Commission or WA Equal Opportunity Commission to find out how to make a complaint.   You can find their details below.



Contact Details

Time Limit for Making a Complaint

Australian Human Rights Commission

1300 656 4191300 656 419



Generally within 12 months

WA  Equal Opportunity Commission

(08) 9216 3900

1800 198 149



Generally within 12 months



You may use and copy this fact sheet.

This page was last updated on 3 February 2015.

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