Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual behaviour which offends you, or makes you feel humiliated or intimidated. It is against the law, and does not have to be deliberate or repeated to be illegal.
Sexual harassment can take many different forms – it can be obvious or indirect, physical or verbal, repeated or one-off and perpetrated by males and females against people of the same or opposite sex.
It includes unwelcome:
- sexual advances: unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching, patting, pinching or suggestive comments or jokes, repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates, offensive telephone calls and indecent exposure, or
- requests for sexual favours; or
- sexual behaviour aimed at you or in your presence: such as unwanted sexual comments about your sex life or your appearance or body, or intrusive questions about your private life This can be spoken or in writing, for example through text messages, email messages, social networking sites such as Facebook, or by displaying unwanted sexual posters, magazines or screensavers.
For behaviour to be sexual harassment it must be unwelcome. Sexual harassment therefore is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual.
Some sexual harassment, such as sexual assault, indecent exposure and stalking is also a criminal offence.
Sexual harassment can happen anywhere – while at work, in a shop or restaurant, at school or college, when looking for accommodation, or when dealing with tradespeople, businesses or state or local government officials.
An employer can be legally responsible for sexual harassment by their employees, unless all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent its occurrence.
Examples of Sexual Harassment
- A café operator makes unwanted sexual or suggestive comments, jokes or taunts to patrons.
- An employer propositions a subordinate for sex or asks questions about an employee’s sex life.
- Workmates send a co-worker emails with links to websites selling sex toys, even though the other worker has asked them to stop.
- A colleague shares a pornographic video of himself having sex.
- A female employee sends her boss a photo of herself naked.
- A female staff member has a boyfriend. A cartoon depicting her and her boyfriend having sex was put on the noticeboard by a co-worker.
- A student asks a fellow-student on a date, but she says no. He wasn’t happy about this and started to texting her and posting comment son Facebook about her, commenting on her body.
Options for dealing with sexual harassment
- Tell them to stop: If possible, tell the offender verbally or in writing that their behaviour is offensive and unacceptable and that you want it to stop immediately. This option may not always be appropriate however, as the individual may feel intimidated or uncomfortable dealing directly with the harasser. If this isn’t possible, you should discuss it with a person who is in charge, such as your work supervisor or teacher.
- 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.
- Get some support: if someone has sexually harassed you or sexually or indecently assaulted you, you can call 1800 RESPECT to talk about your situation.
If the behavior involves touching you in a sexual or indecent way, it’s a crime. You can also call your local police station to report what happened.
- Make a complaint: 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– the person who has been sexually harassed can seek assistance and further options from their manager, union representative, human resource personnel or equity contact officer. Most workplaces have a sexual harassment policy which outlines the complaint procedure.
- School – the Qld Department of Education Training and Employment 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. If the incident happened at a school or educational institution, the individual may seek assistance from a teacher, guidance officer or other welfare staff.
- Government – If the issue is still not resolved or didn’t occur at school or work, you have the right to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission which is run by the Commonwealth government or to the QLD Anti-Discrimination Commission which is run by the state government. A compensation lawyer can advise you about which organisation to make your complaint to, because the federal law is slightly different to the state law. It doesn’t cost you anything to make a complaint. Generally, complaints must be made within 12 months after the harassment happened.
- Tell Someone: Sexual harassment is unacceptable and you should speak to someone 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.
- Get legal advice: Getting legal advice can really help, by clearly identifying that the sexual harassment has occurred and by confronting the offending party with their actions. Sexual harassment claims can often be resolved without the need for court action, provided that they are properly formulated in the first place. Resolutions may include apologies, compensation, changes to business procedures or disciplinary proceedings against the discriminator.
Complaints lodged with the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland (under state law) or Australian Human Rights Commission (under federal law) are generally referred for a conciliation conference with the aim of producing an agreed settlement. It can be critical to have effective representation at these conferences.
If you feel that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, please contact us for a free initial consultation to review your case. Should we agree to proceed, we provide compensation law services on a no-win no-fee basis.
Contact us on PH: 07 4639 0333 for more information, or to arrange a free consultation about your compensation claim.