5. What can you do if you are sexually harassed?
Ignoring sexual harassment does not make it go away, but may make it worse because the harasser may misinterpret no response as approval of the behaviour. The Equal Opportunities Commission has recommended some informal and formal strategies that can be used:
- Speak up at the time. Tell the harasser that his/her behaviour is unwelcome and has to stop;
- Keep a written record of the incidents, including dates, time, places, presence of any witnesses, nature of the harassment (what the harasser said and did) and your responses;
- Tell someone you trust;
- Identify an expert or counsellor who can provide emotional support and information about informal and formal institutional procedures;
- Write a letter/note to the harasser;
- Report it officially (e.g. to a senior staff in the company or the school principal);
- Complain to the Equal Opportunities Commission (please refer to Part VI: How to Complain);
- Contact the police and/or file a lawsuit.
The judgment of a District Court Equal Opportunities Action in 2000 (please click here if you want to read the whole judgment) has explained that whether or not sexual conduct is unwelcome and unlawful depends on two questions: i) whether the complainant welcomed or accepted the conduct at the relevant time (but not whether a "reasonable person" would have welcomed it); and ii) whether the circumstances were such that the harasser should have realized that his/her approaches were unwelcome.
Most sexual harassment court cases requires the victim to prove that "unwelcome sexual conduct" has occurred, therefore, it is very important that you expressly tell the harasser to stop right at the beginning of the incident. Otherwise, you may have great difficulty proving the existence of "unwelcome sexual conduct" if you subsequently lodge a complaint or institute legal proceedings.