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Sexual harassment in Australia

Despite 24 years of legislation, sexual harassment is still alive and well in our workplaces. Sexual harassment comes at a high cost, both to affected individuals and to business. It is important that employers take active steps to prevent sexual harassment and respond effectively when it occurs.

Sexual harassment is defined as ‘any unwelcome or unwanted sexual behaviour which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and /or intimidated where that reaction is reasonable in the circumstance’. 1

Commissioner Broderick will develop a research-driven targeted educational strategy to drive down the level of sexual harassment. The education strategy will aim to increase understanding of sexual harassment, and develop skills to stop it, including the use of complaint mechanisms. This work will also aim to promote workplaces cultures that do not tolerate sexual harassment, including an increase in the number of employers who take a leadership role on sexual harassment.


  • Nearly one in five complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)relate to sexual harassment. The vast majority of these take place in the workplace.2
  • A telephone poll commissioned by the Commission in 2003 found that over 28 per cent of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, compared to seven per cent of men.3
  • Less than one third of interviewees from the Commission's telephone survey who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace made a formal report or complaint about the sexual harassment.4

Quotes from Listening Tour participants

  • “I’ve been living [in these work quarters] for three years. I’ve been sitting with a group of males and one will ask, “Don’t you think it’s my turn [for sex] tonight?”
    Women’s Focus Group
  • “I have just been through [six] years of trying to seek some justice in my male-dominated place of work. The sexual harassment that I was subjected to was nothing compared to the victimisation that took place after I rejected my boss and eventually complained about him.”
    Entry on Listening Tour Website
  • “There is a grey area when you spend a lot of time together. Where do you over-step the mark when something is ok but then something is not, particularly at work social events?”
    Men’s Focus Group

[1] Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)

[2] Australian Human Rights Commission, 'Annual Report 2006-2007' (2007)

[3] Australian Human Rights Commission, '20 Years On: The Challenges Continue, Sexual Harassment in the Australian Workplace' (2004).

[4] Australian Human Rights Commission, '20 Years On: The Challenges Continue, Sexual Harassment in the Australian Workplace' (2004)