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RightsED: Tackling sexual harassment - Resource sheet: Developing a sexual harassment policy for your school

Tackling sexual harassment

 

Resource sheet: Developing a sexual harassment policy for your school

As a student you are entitled to an education free of sexual harassment. The same
applies to teachers - they are entitled to a workplace free from harassment.

Schools have an obligation to deal with sexual harassment and all other forms of
bullying.

Sexual harassment by a member of staff

Regardless of your age, it is unlawful for a teacher to sexually harass you.

Sexual harassment by another student

Regardless of your age, it is unlawful for an adult student to sexually harass you.
Certain types of bullying, about sex or sex-based characteristics, may also be sexual
harassment.

Who is responsible?

Anyone aged over 16 years is considered an
'adult student', which means they are personally liable for sexually harassing another
student or teacher. If you are harassed, you may be able to lodge a complaint against
the student and, in some cases, against the school.

A complaint of sexual harassment can't be made against another student if the
harasser is under 16 years. In these circumstances, however, you may be able to make a
complaint against the school as it has a duty of care to protect students from
harassment and discrimination.

Anti-harassment policies

Each school should have a policy for dealing with these issues.

A good policy will include the following elements (You can tick off those ones that
your school has in its policy on sexual harassment).

A good school sexual harassment policy has . . .

(Tick)

A strong statement on the school's attitude to sexual
harassment

This should state that the school is committed to ensuring that the working and
learning environment is harassment-free. It should also state that sexual
harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated, and that action will be taken
against those who breach the policy.

 

An outline of the school's objectives regarding sexual
harassment

This may include such aims of the school as:

  • to create a working and learning environment that is free from sexual
    harassment and where all members are treated with courtesy, dignity and
    respect
  • to promote appropriate standards of conduct at all times
  • to implement strategies to ensure that all members of the school community
    know their rights and responsibilities in this area
  • to encourage the reporting of prohibited behaviour
  • to provide an effective complaints procedure based on principles of natural
    justice
  • to treat all complaints in a serious, sensitive, fair, timely and
    confidential manner
  • to guarantee against victimisation or reprisals

 

A plain English definition of sexual harassment

It is best if this definition includes a list of the sorts of situations and
behaviour that constitute sexual harassment. Use the What is sexual harassment?
resource sheet to develop a good definition.

 

What sexual harassment is not

The policy should stress that sexual harassment is not behaviour that is based on
mutual attraction, friendship or respect. If the interaction is consensual,
welcomed and reciprocated it is not sexual harassment.

 

A statement that sexual harassment is against the law

Students and teachers need to know that sexual harassment is against the law.
Depending on the circumstances, all students and staff may be covered by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 or laws in their state or territory.

 

Possible consequences if the sexual harassment policy is
breached

Normally a variety of consequences will apply according to the severity of the
situation and whether it is a first or subsequent offence. Consequences may
include an apology, counselling, compensation, disciplinary action, misconduct
proceedings or even suspension or expulsion.

 

Options available for dealing with sexual harassment

Staff and students should be advised of a variety of possible informal and formal
options for dealing with sexual harassment, such as confronting the harasser, or
the processes for making a complaint within the school system (who to approach,
and what their role is from then on).

 

Where to get help or advice

The policy should include the contact details of people who have been appointed
to provide information or assistance or who are responsible for receiving
complaints.

 

 

Making it work

A written policy is not enough. There must also be a program within the school for
making the policy known, and for enforcing it.
Find out about the sexual harassment policy at your school.

  • Are people aware of the policy? Do they have a copy of it?

  • Is it provided to new staff and students?

  • Is it periodically reviewed? It is available in appropriate languages?

  • Are there training and awareness-related strategies associated with the
    policy?

For more information see www.humanrights.gov.au/sexual_harassment