Sexual Harassment Guidelines

Equity and Diversity have developed the following guidelines to assist staff and students deal with sexual harassment. These guidelines should be read in association with the Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy.

What To Do If You Think You Have Been Sexually Harassed?

What is sexual harassment?

The University's definition of sexual harassment reflects the legal definition.

  • Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, and which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated

Examples of sexual harassment

A wide range of behaviours can constitute sexual harassment under the Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy.

What do I need to know about it?

The first thing that you need to know is that you have a right to work and learn in an environment that is free from sexual harassment.

You also need to know that:

  • someone can sexually harass you without meaning to, that is, sexual harassment can be unintentional;
  • it is possible to be harassed by an individual or by a group of people; and
  • it is possible to be harassed by someone with whom you have been intimate, or with whom you had an ongoing relationship.

Even mild forms of sexual harassment can make you feel uncomfortable and detract from your work and studies. This can be particularly true if the person who harassed you has authority over you.

You can do something about it

Whether you are harassed by:

  • someone of equal status (e.g. an employee harassed by an employee of equal status); or
  • someone over whom you have authority (e.g. a lecturer harassed by a student); or
  • someone who has authority over you (e.g., an employee harassed by manager/supervisor or a student harassed by a tutor or lecturer)

Steps you can take

Speak to the person harassing you

If possible speak to the person who is harassing you, let them know that the harassment is unacceptable. If the behaviour continues tell them clearly and firmly that you do not like what they are doing.

You can use phrases like:

  • 'No!', 'Stop!'; or
  • 'That makes me feel very uncomfortable'; or
  • 'I find that offensive'.

They may not realise their behaviour offends you, and might stop once they become aware of it.

Even if you didn't say anything at the time the behaviour occurred, you can still raise the issue with the person later. Tell them that you found what happened offensive, humiliating or intimidating. Make it clear that you think the behaviour should not be repeated.

Write the person harassing you a letter

If you prefer you could write the person a civil and factual letter. This is an effective way of letting them know that their behaviour is unacceptable and that you insist that it stop. When you write the letter:
  • include a factual account of the harassment;
  • avoid emotional or inflammatory language;
  • be precise;
  • note details about the date, time and place the behaviour occurred and how you felt about it: for example, embarrassed, offended, or unsafe.

Deliver the letter personally or by registered mail. Keep a copy of it for your own records but ensure that it remains private and confidential. (See 'Maintain confidentiality and protect yourself from legal liability' below.)

The concern might be resolved between you and the other person without the assistance of the University if you choose to write the person a letter or speak with them directly.

Obtain advice and support

Seek advice from your manager or supervisor in the first instance. If this is not possible or appropriate contact Equity and Diversity or Office of People and Culture. They will:

invite you to talk about your concern;

Maintain confidentiality and protect yourself from legal liability.

Allegations of sexual harassment made in good faith through the appropriate channels are unlikely to be defamatory.

It is not defamatory to confront the person who harassed you in person or to write them a letter. Private communications do not damage someone's reputation. The law also protects you when you raise a concern about sexual harassment with the appropriate people in the University.

It is appropriate to approach your Manager, Supervisor, or Head of Department in private to raise the concern and find out what can be done about it and it is appropriate to discuss the issue with Equity and Diversity and the Office of People and Culture.

On the other hand there are real risks associated with telling others, apart from those mentioned above, about your allegation of sexual harassment. For this reason it is unwise to make your concerns public. Protect yourself by respecting confidentiality, and avoid talking to your group of friends or people in your workplace about the situation.

Keep confidential records about the harassment

Write notes about what was said or what occurred, your response to it and how you felt. Include dates, times, places and witnesses. Should you decide to pursue the matter by making a complaint either within the University or outside, these notes will be very helpful to you.

Keep other evidence of the harassment, such as notes, letters , e-mails, texts (sms) or other electronic communication even if you don't think you want to pursue the matter. You might change your mind later (especially if the behaviour continues or worsens).

What to do next if the harassment continues or the matter is not resolved informally with your supervisor?

You can lodge a formal complaint with the Complaints Resolution Unit.

The procedures for lodging a formal complaint are found in the Complaints Handling and Resolution Policy and Procedure.

Will the alleged harasser be 'punished' if the complaint is substantiated?

Disciplinary action may be taken against students or staff who are found to have sexually harassed other students or staff.

Breaches of the policy will be considered to be misconduct or serious misconduct in the case of employees, and "non-academic misconduct" in the case of students, and may result in the most serious cases in permanent expulsion (for students) or dismissal (for staff).

External Complaint and Advisory Bodies.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (opens in a new window)

The NSW Anti Discrimination Board (opens in a new window)

Fair Work Australia (opens in a new window)


These Guidelines have been developed based on the University of Melbourne's document "So You Think You Have Been Sexually Harassed" and the Australian Human Rights Commission publications "Know Your Rights: Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment "and "Effectively Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment."