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Sexual harassment in education

Students and teachers are entitled to an education and workplace free from harassment and schools should have a policy to deal with these issues.

An apple on top of a bunch of books

Sexual harassment is any unwanted or uninvited sexual behaviour that is offensive, intimidating or humiliating. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or friendship.

Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, in schools, colleges and universities, in clubs, or when buying goods or receiving services, seeking or obtaining accommodation, as well as when using Commonwealth services.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act it is unlawful for:

  • a teacher or a student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a student
  • a student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a teacher.

If you have experienced sexual harassment, you can make a complaint to the Commission.

A complaint of sexual harassment cannot be made against a student under the age of 16. However, it may be possible to make a complaint against the school as it has a duty of care to protect students and teachers from harassment and discrimination.

The Commission can investigate the complaint. It will try to resolve the complaint through a process of conciliation, during which it will help the two parties involve by acting as an impartial person.

If the complaint cannot be resolved, you may be able to take your complaint to Court. If the Commission is not able to deal with your complaint at all, it will write to you to explain why.

PLEASE NOTE: The Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2011 amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in May 2011 to expand the protections against sexual harassment. Click here for more information.

Resources

The Australian Human Rights Commission RightsED resource, Tackling Sexual Harassment in Schools, is a comprehensive publication designed to engage students and schools in an active examination of sexual harassment. It includes activity sheets, resource sheets and a video.
Two of the resource sheets included in the publication are:
  • What is sexual harassment?, which contains general information on sexual harassment in education, and
  • Developing a sexual harassment policy for your school.

The Australian Human Rights Commission RightsED publication, Young people in the workplace contains a series of resources designed to help students explore the issues around workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment.

Click here to order these or other publications.