What is threatening, unwanted or inappropriate behaviour?

Sexual harassment is never OK. If this has happened to you, help is available.

Have you or someone you know been experiencing or have experienced unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour?

Have you seen someone experiencing unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour, including bullying?

Unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour is not OK. It's not OK to behave this way. It's not OK to be treated this way.

What is unlawful behaviour?

Unlawful behaviour includes:

Sexual assault

Sexual Assault is a general term used to describe a broad range of sexual crimes committed against a person.

These crimes include sexual intercourse without consent, aggravated sexual assault, indecent assault and acts of indecency (these offences generally involve inappropriate touching, including genitals or other intimate areas or forcing a person to touch the genitals or intimate areas of another person). An offence is aggravated if there is a threat, whether actual or implied, or it is done in the company of other people, or is committed upon a person under a certain age or under authority of a person (teacher/relative/carer) or involves the use of a weapon, force or threat. Sexual Assault is a crime of violence. It aims to humiliate and degrade the victim and can occur within marriage. It can be a frightening experience that may have long term effects. These effects occur regardless of a person's age, gender, status, culture, ability or sexuality.

Definitions and helpful links

Other unlawful conduct of a sexual nature includes:

Indecent assault is touching (or the threat to touch) a person's body in a sexual manner without their consent by another person. For example it can include unwanted touching of a person's breast, bottom or genitals.

Act of Indecency is when a person does something of a sexual nature with or towards another person or makes the person do something of a sexual nature towards them. For example, it can include the offender masturbating in front of another person.

See the Victims Services' commonly used legal terms.

More information about adult sexual assault is available from NSW Police Force Community Issues.

What is 'without consent'?

Sexual assault occurs when someone is unable to and/or does not give consent.

The law says that a person is unable to give consent when:

  • asleep or unconscious
  • significantly intoxicated or affected by drugs
  • unable to understand what they are consenting to due to their age or intellectual capacity
  • intimidated, coerced or threatened
  • unlawfully detained or held against their will
  • they submit due to the person being in a position of trust.

Sometimes people say NO to having sex in a non-verbal way, like:

  • not being enthusiastic about what is happening
  • lying really still, not talking, not looking at you or participating in touching
  • turning, moving or looking away
  • crying, being upset.

Sometimes people are considered unable to give consent even if they say 'yes'. For example, when the person is:

  • drug or alcohol affected
  • asleep, unconscious or semi-conscious
  • being threatened, constrained, made to, pressured to, or forced to have sex (This can include fear of being hurt, or hurting the other person's feelings, if they don’t have sex.)
  • tricked or deceived (agreed to one sexual act that turned into something they didn’t agree to)
  • not understanding what they said 'yes' to
  • thinking that they cannot say 'no'
  • under aged — in NSW, it is unlawful to have sex with anyone under 16 years old — even if they say yes to having sex. See more about this at Lawstuff Australia — know your rights.
What is 'consent'?

Consent is given when a person freely and voluntarily agrees to sexual intercourse.

When you give your consent to have sex with someone it means that you feel entirely comfortable having sex or engaging in other sexual acts with that person. Consent can be:

  • verbal — saying yes, okay, let’s do it
  • physical — nodding your head, touching, kissing, actively participating
  • emotional — it is not always as straight forward as someone explicitly saying yes.

Or, 'NO' can be meant when someone says, 'I’m not sure', 'I don’t really want to', 'Not right now', or 'I don’t like it'.

The best way to be sure if someone consents to sexual intercourse with you is to ASK!

Then, during sexual intercourse, ask your partner, 'Are you ok?', 'Do you want to keep going?' or 'Are you comfortable?'

Still unsure about what 'consent' means?

Watch 'Consent — it's simple as tea'
(Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios, published on 13 May 2015)

Read more about the meaning of consensual sex.

Sexual harassment and discrimination

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual Harassment as defined in Section 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act is " . . . a person sexually harasses another person (the "person harassed") if:

  • the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed
  • in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

The following are some general characteristics of sexual harassment:

  • it often occurs at times and places where witnesses are not likely to be present
  • the effect of sexual harassment may be the same whether the conduct was intentional or unintentional
  • behaviour of a sexual nature that is acceptable outside the work/study place may not be appropriate and may constitute sexual harassment in the work context
  • what constitutes sexual harassment to one person may be acceptable and inoffensive to another. Different social or cultural backgrounds may lead people to perceive the same conduct differently
  • sexual harassment can affect anyone regardless of gender or sexual preference.

Examples of harassment may include:

  • comments, insinuations and questions about another person's sexual conduct and private life
  • intimidating or demeaning sexist comments
  • teasing or taunting with sexual innuendo and/or talk about sex which causes offence
  • sexual jokes, offensive telephone calls, offensive mail or electronic messages sent by fax or email
  • displays of obscene or pornographic photos/calendars, pictures, posters or objects
  • leering, wolf whistles, catcalls, obscene gestures
  • physical contact such as patting, pinching or touching, fondling, kissing or embracing someone against their will
  • any unnecessary familiarity or unnecessary close physical proximity
  • persistent unwelcome invitations
  • actual molestation
  • sexual assault and rape (criminal offences to be reported to the police).

Sexual harassment may occur:

  • as a single incident or a series of incidents
  • among peers or co-workers, and in subordinate-supervisor, supervisor-subordinate, staff-staff or staff-student, student-staff, student-student situations.
Sexual harassment between staff and students

Whilst personal relationships of staff and students are not the business of the University, it does have a responsibility for any sexual harassment occurring in the University environment. Behaviour which arises from discrimination against individuals constitutes harassment when it:

  • implicitly or explicitly becomes a condition of a person's admission to or recruitment by the University, or selection into courses
  • implicitly or explicitly becomes a condition for decisions which bear on a person's academic evaluation or level and condition of appointment, promotion, salary or any other work conditions
  • is used, implicitly or explicitly, to control, influence or affect the career, salary, job or academic prospects or performance of a student or staff member over whom actual or perceived authority exists
  • has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's academic or work performance
  • creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning, university residential or work environment, particularly in areas traditionally dominated by one sex.

Forms of sexual harassment which may initially appear mild or trivial can constitute severe harassment in staff-student or employer-employee relationships where there is formal inequality of status, for example, unequal power relationships.

When is it not sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment does not arise in the context of mutual sexual attraction and flirtation based on choice and consent which is a private matter between the individuals concerned.

What is discrimination?

Under discrimination law, it is unlawful to treat a person less favourably on the basis of particular protected attributes such as a person’s sex, race, disability or age. The discrimination can be direct or indirect.

Direct Discrimination is treating someone less favourably, because they have attributes protected by law, than people without those attributes would be treated in the same or similar circumstances.

Indirect Discrimination is often less obvious. Sometimes, a requirement, condition or practice seems fair because it applies to everyone, but a closer look shows that it has an unfair impact on some people with certain protected attributes. This is because some people or groups of people are unable, or less able, to comply with the requirement or are disadvantaged because of it. If the condition or practice is 'not reasonable', it may be indirect discrimination.

Treating a person less favourably can include harassing or bullying a person.  The law also has specific provisions relating to sexual harassment, racial hatred and disability harassment.  Bullying may not be unlawful under federal or state anti-discrimination laws unless it is linked to, or based on, one of the characteristics covered by these laws, such as the person’s age, sex, race or disability. Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour by an individual towards a worker which creates a risk to health and safety.

Helpful links

Human Rights Good Practice Fact Sheets — on workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying

A quick guide to human rights

Fairwork Australia — government fact sheets about rights and obligations in the workplace


Stalking is a crime. Under the Crime (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007, stalking includes following a person about or watching or frequenting the vicinity of, or a person’s place of residence, work or any place that a person frequents for any activity.

Stalking involves a persistent course of conduct or actions by a person which are intended to maintain contact with or exercise power and control over another person. These actions cause distress, loss of control, fear or harassment to another person and occur more than once.

It can involve threats or sexual innuendo and the stalker generally tries to intimidate or induce fear in the person they are stalking. The person being stalked may only realise they are being stalked once they identify a pattern of strange or suspicious incidents occurring, such as:

  • phone calls, text messages, messages left on a phone
  • messages left on social networking sites
  • notes left on their car
  • flowers left at their home
  • an awareness that they are being followed
  • being continually stared at by another person.

The person being stalked often develops a sense of loss of control over their lives and is forced into changing their life routine and behaviours.

Stalking is committed when a person:

  • intentionally and persistently
  • without a legitimate reason
  • engages in a course of conduct directed at another specific person
  • against their will
  • causes the other person to fear, or to believe, that harm would come to them.

Simply, this means that whatever intentional actions the stalker takes to put you in fear can be considered stalking when it occurs more than once and against your will.

See the NSW Police Force's information about 'What is stalking?'.

Relationship and domestic violence

Controlling and violent relationships

There are many types of domestic and family violence. It is violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour by a partner, carer or family member to control, dominate or cause fear. It doesn’t have to be physical abuse. It can be emotional, psychological, financial, sexual or other types of abuse and can include animal abuse targeting pets, and damaging personal or joint property.

It can affect anyone in the community, regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, age, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, economic status or location.

The offender knows the affected person intimately through a long-term, close or developing relationship and relies on developing, during the early stages, a strong bond through friendship, love, trust and loyalty to create a high degree of co-dependence.

The underlying behavioural traits of power and control are then used to control and abuse the affected person.

The more times the offender abuses, the greater the likelihood the affected partner becomes vulnerable to further abuse and violence.

This can result in the affected person feeling of fearful, guilt, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation and feeling 'trapped' in the relationship. This often results in a 'Cycle of Violence'.

Children living in a relationship with abusive behaviour are considered to be at risk of harm, either directly by being abused or indirectly by witnessing the abuse of the parent or carer. Children who live in families where domestic and family violence occurs are at a greater risk of being sexually abused. The continuation of abuse and even exposure to such abuse could result in serious problems impacting on the child's personal, health, education and social development.

Helpful links

NSW Police Force: Domestic and Family Violence

NSW Police Force: Help and Support Resources

NSW Government's information about domestic violence


Bullying is a pattern of repeated physical, verbal, psychological or social aggression that is directed towards a person by someone more powerful than them and is intended to cause harm, distress and/or fear.

Bullying might involve repeatedly:

  • hurting someone physically
  • leaving someone out
  • abusing someone verbally or in writing
  • insulting, belittling or intimidating someone
  • using offensive language
  • spreading nasty rumours or cruel teasing
  • displaying offensive material
  • threatening to commit violence
  • committing harmful or offensive initiation practices
  • behaving hostilely regarding someone’s gender or sexuality
  • teasing or making someone the brunt of pranks or practical jokes
  • encouraging others to participate in bullying behaviour
  • interfering with someone’s materials, equipment or personal property.

Bullying may be perpetrated by a student towards a University staff member or vice versa. It can also occur between staff members or between students.

A person can be bullied about their:

  • appearance
  • home or family
  • schoolwork
  • popularity
  • achievements
  • race or culture
  • gender
  • physical and mental state
  • sexuality.

Bullying is not:

  • a single incident
  • providing constructive criticism
  • mutual conflict
  • social rejection or dislike
  • differences of opinion.

Online Bullying (Cyber Bullying)

Cyber bullying can take many forms, including:

  • posting hurtful comments and embarrassing photos on social media
  • sending abusive messages or images through mobile phones and on the internet
  • sending emails that vilify, demean or cause humiliation to a person or group
  • setting up hate websites and blogs to vilify someone
  • using chat rooms, instant messaging and gaming areas to harass someone.