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How to get help if you’re a victim of sexual harassment at work?

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Being sexually harassed at work is still too common in Australia, but there are ways to ensure your rights are respected.

According to the latest survey from the Australian Human Rights Commission, one in three workers say they've been sexually harassed at work over the last five years. But sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and shouldn't be tolerated. 

What’s sexual harassment?

The Australian Human Rights Commission describes sexual harassment as "an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances.”

It can take several forms, like sexual “jokes”, leering, unwanted invitation to go on dates and requests for sex, intrusive questions about a person’s private life, insults based on sex, unwelcome touching and sexually explicit emails or text messages.

Improper office etiquette
Improper office etiquette
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Who are the victims?

Anybody can be a victim of sexual harassment, but the Australian Human Rights Commission national survey shows that young women are the most vulnerable.

In the last five years, 39% of the women interrogated had experienced sexual harassment, and 26% of the men. The most common victims of sexual harassment were younger people under the age of 29.

How to get support?

Sexual harassment at work is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act. To learn more about your rights, you can call the Australian Human Rights Commission on their information line, 1300 656 419. If you're distressed, you can talk to a trusted friend or call 1800 RESPECT.

If needed, you can access an interpreter through the Translating and Interpreting Service when calling the Australian Rights Commission information line or 1800 RESPECT.

Creative differences can make tempers flare in any office
Creative differences can make tempers flare in any office
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How to file a complaint?

Once you have decided to make a complaint, you can talk to your employer, a human resources representative or the union at your workplace.

“The response can be varied. Some employers will take the complaint seriously and investigate it and take action. Others are less informed about what they need to do so they can also ask the Human Rights Commission for help on what they should do in response,” says Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

If your employer doesn't take action, you can go to the Australian Human Rights Commission to ensure your rights are respected. It can lead to a conciliation process and possibly to court.

“Ideally, when you go to your employer, the employer will take the complaint seriously, make sure you're not subjected to any detriment for bringing it forward and see what they can do to sort it out, which quite often will be working with the individual to decide whether they want to progress with a complaint and to deal with it within the company," says Jenkins.

Blank Sexual Harassment Complain Form
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Where to find more information?

To learn more about sexual harassment and your rights in the workplace, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman websites, which both provide resources in different languages.

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