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Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable. Workplace sexual harassment is a serious issue for the legal profession and can amount to professional misconduct.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. If a reasonable person would anticipate this behaviour might make the other person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, it may be sexual harassment. It can be physical, verbal or written (including through online spaces and social media platforms). 

Some examples of behaviour that may constitute sexual harassment include:  

  • sexually suggestive comments or jokes  
  • intrusive questions about your private life or physical appearance  
  • inappropriate staring or leering  
  • unwelcome hugging, kissing, touching or other types of inappropriate physical contact  
  • sexually explicit text messages, images, phone calls or emails.   

Sexual harassment does not have to be repeated or continuous to be against the law. A single act can be unlawful. 

Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes ‘workplace sexual harassment’, when it happens in locations and spaces that are in some way connected to work. 

This includes:

  • at work (for example, on the work premises as well as in other common areas such as the carpark, lifts, entrance or reception area and bathrooms outside of the work premises)  
  • at work-related events, meetings or where people are carrying out work-related functions or activities outside of the physical work premises (for example, at a Christmas party, conference, on a work trip or when travelling to work)   
  • in online spaces and through technologies and social media platforms (for example, during remote work)  
  • between people sharing the same workplace (for example, contractors or people in a co-working space). 

Employers have a responsibility to ensure their workplaces are free of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in the legal profession 

The Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Time for respect: Fifth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces’ showed that there continued to be a high rate of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, however, reporting of sexual harassment continued to be low. Data from the report showed that in the last five years, one in three Australians had been sexually harassed at work (41% of women and 26% of men). 

The legal profession is not immune to this issue. The National Action Plan to Reduce Sexual Harassment in the Australian Legal Profession, published by the Law Council of Australia in December 2020 highlighted that all available statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that sexual harassment within the legal profession is a prevalent and persistent problem. 

Sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable within the legal profession and workplaces more broadly. It is not only illegal, but for members of the profession it is conduct that is capable of constituting professional misconduct.

Support services

If you have experienced sexual harassment or any other form of inappropriate conduct, there are a range of services available to provide support. 

1800RESPECT offers confidential counselling and support, 24/7
Website: 1800respect.org.au
Phone: 1800 737 732

Lifeline offers 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services 
Website: lifeline.org.au
Phone: 13 11 14

LawCare, a 24-hour confidential, personal and professional support service.
Website: qls.com.au/Pages/Members/LawCare
Phone: 1300 367 757 

13Yarn offers 24/7 culturally safe crisis support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 
Website: 13yarn.org.au
Phone: 13 92 76 

Mensline offers free confidential counselling and support for men. 
Website: mensline.org.au
Phone: 1300 78 99 78 

It is important to remember that is it never your fault, and you have the right to feel safe.