4.1 Sexual harassment is a cultural issue
Sexual harassment is most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It can also be directed at, and perpetrated by, all persons including men, women, transgender people, and those who identify as non-binary.
Sexual harassment is a systemic cultural issue, not just a matter of individual conduct. People Matter Survey results show a strong association between the application of the public sector values and lower reported negative behaviours including bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Attributes including age, gender identity, sexual orientation, being Indigenous, other cultural and linguistic diversity, disability, low income and job insecurity increase the risk that a person may experience sexual harassment. In addition, intersectional identities can compound the experience for some individuals.
In the VPS, few people who experience sexual harassment choose to report it. This is for different reasons including thinking that reporting it will not make a difference and believing it would have a negative impact on their career or reputation.
4.2 The various forms of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace may take various forms. It may be physical, spoken or written (including on social media or via email or text message) and may include, but is not limited to:
- unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature;
- comments or questions of a sexual nature about a person’s private life or their appearance;
- sexually suggestive behaviour, such as leering or staring or offensive gestures;
- brushing up against someone, touching, fondling or hugging;
- sexually suggestive comments or jokes;
- displaying offensive screen savers, photos, calendars or objects;
- repeated requests to go out;
- unwanted displays or declarations of affection;
- requests for sex;
- sexually explicit emails, text messages or posts on social networking sites;
- sexual assault, indecent exposure physical assault and stalking (which are also criminal offences); and
- actions or comments of a sexual nature in a person’s presence (even if not directed at that person).
4.3 A single incident can constitute sexual harassment
A single incident can constitute sexual harassment. Equally, an ongoing and broader pattern of behaviour can also constitute sexual harassment.
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provide that sexual harassment occurs in circumstances where the conduct is unwelcome and a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Sexual harassment can still occur even when a harasser does not intend it. Motive is irrelevant; the test focuses on how the behaviour is experienced by the other person. It is the responsibility of all staff to ensure that they do not engage in or ignore any behaviour that might be sexual harassment.