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Workplace sexual harassment

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What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which a reasonable person would anticipate, in all the circumstances, would make the other person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written (including through online spaces and social media platforms). 

Examples of behaviour that could be workplace sexual harassment include:  

  • a manager making jokes about pornography during a staff video conference 
  • someone asking intrusive questions about a co-worker’s sexuality 
  • a client groping or inappropriately touching someone 
  • an employer insisting on hugging the female volunteers when they finish their shift 
  • a worker repeatedly texting another worker to tell her she is beautiful, and they want to take her out 
  • an employer promising a job applicant a role if they perform sexual favours 
  • a staff member repeatedly trying to kiss and grope a co-worker during drinks after work 
  • comments on social media that use sexually explicit language to insult a female staff member.

Recognising the ‘workplace’ 

Sexual harassment constitutes ‘workplace sexual harassment’ when it occurs in locations and spaces that are in some way connected to work, including: 

  • at work (that is, 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).

Sexual harassment is not just an individual problem, it is a systemic issue driven by the broader discrimination, disrespect and inequality that women experience in everyday life.  

Anyone can be sexually harassed. However, most harassers are male, and the majority of their targets are women. 

Certain groups also experience disproportionately high rates of sexual harassment, including LGBTIQ people, young women, women with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women from multicultural and multifaith backgrounds.

Source: Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

Sexual harassment in the legal profession

Our Sexual Harassment in the Victorian Legal Profession study showed that one in three survey respondents had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career. However, there are significant differences between the experiences of women and men in the profession, with 61% of female respondents and 12% of male respondents reporting experiencing sexual harassment in Victorian legal workplaces. 

The study consisted of two surveys, conducted in August and September 2019. The first survey was sent to all Victorian legal practitioners, with more than 2,300 lawyers responding about their experience of sexual harassment in the profession. The second was sent to principals of law practices to collect data about how sexual harassment is managed in their workplaces. 

Our study found that:

  • Harassment was recent - for a majority of people reporting sexual harassment in our survey it occurred within the last five years, and for 25%, this was in the last 12 months
  • Women, and in particular junior women, were most likely to be harassed 
  • Harassers were almost always male (90%), often in a more senior role than the affected person (72%) and regularly aged over 40 (66%), and that it was common for a sexual harassment incident to be part of a pattern of behaviour from the harasser (40%), and for the harasser to be known for being involved in similar incidents
  • There is a power imbalance that allows sexual harassment to occur and go unchecked
  • Most harassment goes unreported
  • Many workplaces don’t have the policies, procedures or reporting mechanisms in place to address harassment, and that training is rare.

Our regulatory strategy aims to tackle the issues raised in our report with both proactive and reactive measures.

You can read more about our report here.

VLSB+C Guide for People Experiencing Sexual Harassment

We have developed a resource that provides information about what you might consider doing if you are experiencing sexual harassment, including at the time of an incident and immediately afterwards. Find out about options for reporting sexual harassment, including the various pathways and potential outcomes.

Access our experiencing sexual harassment resource.

VLSB+C Guide for Witnesses to Sexual Harassment

Access a guide providing information about what you might consider doing if you witness or hear about sexual harassment in legal workplaces. It covers actions that bystanders can take to respond to sexual harassment.

Access our witnessing sexual harassment resource.

Reporting sexual harassment

There are a number of ways you can report sexual harassment. You can report anonymously, or you can report on the record. Whatever you choose to do, there are supports available to help.

If you are in danger or want to report a crime, you should contact Victoria Police on 000.


If you wish  to discuss a matter confidentially with us, or make a report or complaint relating to sexual harassment by a lawyer, please contact our sexual Harassment Complaints Team.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

Australian Human Rights Commission

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