Sexual Harassment in the workplace

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of sexual nature. The following can all be considered as sexual harassment.

–    Touching, grabbing or making other physical contact without consent

–   Making sexual comments 

–   Asking for sexual favours

–   Leering and staring

–   Displaying rude or offensive materials 

–   Making sexual gestures or suggestive body movements 

–   Sexual jokes and comments

–   Insulting others with sexual comments

–   Committing a criminal offense such as making an obscene phone call, indecently exposing themselves, or sexual assault

Sexual harassment is a large problem in workplaces, with one in three workers saying they had been sexually assaulted in their workplace over the last 5 years.

What can workplaces do to prevent sexual harassment?

To prevent sexual harassment, workplaces can do a number of things such as set up policies, educate employees, encourage bystanders to speak up and take all allegations seriously.


There are many companies that have sexual harassment policies in place, which state the companies views on sexual harassment. For example, stating that the company will defend the rights of every employee and provide an environment that is supportive. A template of a sexual harassment policy, created by the Institute of Community Directors Australia, can be used to write up a policy for a company and states its purpose, the definition of sexual harassment and responsibilities and procedures in the case of a sexual harassment allegation.


At a designated time every year, there should be a seminar to discuss and educate employees about sexual harassment, and go through the procedures if someone has been sexually harassed. These meetings would encourage a supportive workplace and would help employees to stand up for themselves and others.

Report system

There should also be a system to report all allegations of sexual harassment. This would verify the idea that all allegations should be taken seriously and may encourage more people to report if they or someone else has been victimised. Due to the low percentage of sexual harassment incidents that are formally reported (around 17% of total incidents) it is important to get more people to report incidents, whether as a witness or a victim.

Reports should always be anonymous, to lessen fear of negative repercussions.

What can the government do to prevent sexual harassment?

The government has an important role in stopping sexual harassment. New policies should be put in place for Australian companies to call upon in the case of sexual harassment in their workplace. Policies like having psychologists employed by the government to be placed in companies, having a department seperate from the company designed to deal with these issues or setting up a helpline.

Psychologists employed by the government to work in large companies may help people to report incidents of sexual harassment and to feel more comfortable in their workplace. Feeling safe and secure is important in the work environment, as it increases productivity and creates a better dynamic between coworkers. Having someone to talk to with no bias within the workplace will create more feelings of security if an employee feels as if they can’t talk to anyone else.

Most victims of sexual harassment don’t report the incidents out of fear that they won’t be believed, that it’s not worth it, that they’ll be ostracised or that their career would be damaged. This may be due to bias within the company, with people believing the harasser over the victim due to pre-existing bonds. If a seperate department was to be introduced into the government that handles all sexual harassment claims and has a ‘helpline’, victims of harassment may find it easier to open up about their negative experiences.

What can individuals do to prevent sexual harassment?

Individuals can help prevent sexual harassment in their workplace by being observant and diligent in standing up for themselves and others. This can be done by using the report system, or calling the helpline.

It is important for a healthy and supportive environment to be created in the workplace to encourage employees to stand behind each other and work together to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace.

What do you do if you are sexually harassed?

If you are sexually harassed there are many ways that you could warn someone, or ask for help. One of these ways is calling or contacting the helpline and explaining the situation that’s going on in the workplace to see if they can help.
If you are sexually harassed in the workplace it is always better to let someone who you can trust so that it is known, if you tell someone there is a greater chance that it will be prevented.


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