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Sexual Harassment (NT)

Residents of the Northern Territory are protected from sexual harassment under both federal and Territory law. The Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 prohibits sexual harassment in the Northern Territory, and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 criminalises the behaviour at a federal level. If a person experiences sexual harassment in certain areas of life, they can make a complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission. This article deals with sexual harassment in the Northern Territory and the available avenues of complaint.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Statistically, reported sexual harassment is usually perpetrated by men against women. However, women do sexually harass men, and people harass individuals of their own gender. It occurs most commonly in the workplace, where employees are legally protected whether they are permanent or casual, part-time or full-time workers. A person is protected from sexual harassment at every stage of employment, from job advertisement and application to dismissal or notice period.

It is important to note that the development of a romantic or sexual relationship in a workplace setting is not necessarily an instance of sexual harassment. This is because a romantic or sexual relationship with a colleague is not harassment when there is consent between the parties. The parties should be aware, however, that it may still constitute inappropriate workplace conduct under their employer’s code of conduct.  

Harassment is disturbing, upsetting or annoying behaviour that is often carried out by someone who has power over a victim. Sexual harassment is unwelcome behaviour that is any of the following:

  • Sexual advances;
  • Physical contact;
  • Sexual propositions;
  • Sexual taunts or insults;
  • Suggestive behaviour;
  • Staring or leering;
  • Intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
  • Sexually explicit emails, texts or materials; and
  • Other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

Sexual harassment can be one instance of behaviour, or it can be a continuous campaign of harassment that includes a range of these behaviours. It is also important to understand that previously welcome behaviour can subsequently become sexual harassment if either party become uncomfortable with the situation.


Under both Commonwealth and Territory law, it is an offence to discriminate against or harass someone on the basis of a protected attribute such as sex, race or age. Sexual harassment is, therefore, a type of discrimination and is prohibited by anti-discrimination law.

Under the Northern Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act, a person is prohibited from sexually harassing another person at work and when they access goods/services or education. A territorian is also protected from sexual harassment when visiting shops, travelling, accessing public places, entertainment venues and accommodation. However, discrimination law does not apply to circumstances when someone rents rooms to another person in their own home. This is because the legislation does not apply to discrimination that happens in the home or in the person’s private life. When a person encounters sexual harassment or assault in their private life, they may be able to pursue other legal avenues, such as pressing charges for sexual assault or obtaining a domestic violence order.

Making a complaint

A victim of sexual harassment can make a complaint to the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission or the federal Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission gathers evidence from both parties to determine whether there has been a breach of discrimination law. The Commission typically encourages the parties to attend conciliation to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. At a conciliation, an impartial third party assists the parties to talk through the issue and resolve the dispute together.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the Commission will ask for specific documents to evaluate the complaint. If the Commission decides that there is a reasonable prospect of the complaint succeeding, it will refer the matter to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The possible outcomes of a complaint include an apology, reinstatement of the complainant to their position, or corporate changes to their anti-discrimination policies and practices. If the Commission considers that the complaint does not have merit, it will close the complaint without further action.

The Federal Commission examines cases according to the rule set out in the Sex Discrimination Act. To be found guilty of sexual harassment, the person must have anticipated that their behaviour would offend, intimidate or humiliate the victim. Amongst other considerations, the Commission considers the victim’s age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status, race, religious belief, and ethnic origin. Additionally, the relationship between the harasser and victim is of particular importance.

An incident of sexual harassment may also constitute a criminal offence. For example, someone who is intimately touched without their consent has both a sexual harassment case and can also make a criminal complaint about the indecent assault to the Territory police.

Contact Go To Court Lawyers for any advice on making a sexual harassment complaint or laying criminal charges in the Northern Territory. Our experienced solicitors can provide legal assistance and representation on this and any other legal matter.


Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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