Sexual Assault and Harassment at Work

Sexual Assault and Harassment at Work

Macquarie University has a zero tolerance policy to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any sexual or sexualised act that has not been consented to, agreed upon, invited, or chosen. It is a betrayal of trust and a denial of each person’s right to determine what happens to their body. Sexual assault can be committed against people regardless of their gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, and background. Sexual assault is sometimes referred to as rape, sexual abuse or sexual violence.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is not sexual interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual. Sexual harassment might include:

  • Discussions of a sexual nature or graphic sexual description
  • Sexual innuendos, slurs, jokes and comments
  • Asking personal questions about a person’s sex life or body
  • Repeated unwanted requests for sex and/or dates
  • Lewd gestures such as hand signs to indicate sexual activity
  • Displaying or distributing sexually suggestive visuals including pictures, calendars, posters, or sexually explicit materials such as videos or text
  • Inappropriate touching such as patting, pinching, stroking or brushing up against the body
  • Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person, or exposing yourself.

What to do if you have experienced sexual assault or harassment at work

If you feel that you have experienced sexual assault or harassment at work, you are encouraged to report it so you can get the support and information you need.


Staff can seek support or further information in a number of ways, including speaking to:

  • your immediate supervisor;
  • your Human Resources Advisor;
  • the Manager, Workplace Diversity and Inclusion; or
  • the Director, Human Resources.

Crisis support phone numbers (24/7)

If there is an immediate risk to your or another person's health and safety, action should be taken. In an emergency, contact:

  • Police and Ambulance services (safety and medical concerns) – 000
  • Macquarie University Security (on-campus emergency) – (02) 9850 9999

Employee Assistance Program

Staff and their immediate family members can access free confidential counselling or support at any time by contacting Benestar. Benestar offer face-to-face counselling, telephone support, and live chat support.

To make an appointment with Benestar, call 1300 360 364.

External support services

Below you will find a list of services off campus, which can offer you support, counselling and information.

Medical support
North Sydney Sexual Assault Service(02) 9926 7111Forensic and counselling service for adult victims of sexual assault
MQ Health – GP Services(02) 9812 3944Bulk billing is available to students, pensioners, healthcare card holders and staff of Macquarie University Hospital. Most international student health cover is accepted.
Ryde Hospital(02) 9858 7888Emergency department available
Royal North Shore Hospital(02) 9926 7111Emergency department available
Sexual assault counselling and information
1800 RESPECT1800 737 732Counselling is available 24/7, whether you're seeking help for yourself, a friend or relative, a colleague or a client. Professionals are also encouraged to use 1800RESPECT for support with secondary referrals or vicarious trauma. North Sydney Sexual Assault Services (02) 9462 9477 forensic and counselling service for adult victims of sexual assault.
NSW Rape Crisis Centre1800 424 01724/7 telephone and online crisis counselling service for anyone in NSW - men and women - who has experienced or is at risk of sexual assault and their non-offending supporters. This support service is provided by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia.
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia1800 211 028A national counselling service for anyone who is involved in or considering participating in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Sexual Assault Counselling Australia also provides counselling for people who want to address their trauma as a result of hearing about the Royal Commission, and anyone who is supporting someone who is participating in the Royal Commission.
QLife LGBTIQ Counselling1800 184 527Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ). Online and phone counselling available.
Aboriginal Women’s Sexual Assault Network(02) 8585 0333A network of Aboriginal women from all parts of New South Wales, who are committed to working to prevent sexual assault in their communities.
Other counselling services
Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre(02) 9718 1955Specialist counselling service supporting women affected by trauma.
MensLine 24/71300 789 978A professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men.
Survivors and Mates Support Network1800 472 676A not-for-profit organisation working to increase public awareness of the effects that childhood sexual abuse can have on men in their adult lives.
QLife LGBTIQ Counselling1800 184 527Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ). Online and phone counselling available.
Twenty10 (incorporating Gay and Lesbian Counselling Services)(02) 8594 9555Sydney based service providing a broad range of specialised services for young people 12-25 including housing, mental health, counselling and social support, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse, non-binary, intersex, questioning, queer, asexual and more (LGBTIQA+)
Lifeline13 11 14Online, phone and face-to-face crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Beyond Blue1300 224 636Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia experiencing anxiety.

Reporting sexual assault or harassment

When should you report sexual assault or sexual harassment?

Reporting sexual assault or sexual harassment early can be beneficial, though you can report sexual assault or sexual harassment at any time. When you report the incident, you will speak with someone who can offer you access to support and information, and discuss options with you.

Counselling services provide support to people who have experienced sexual assault at any time in their life. It is never too late to seek support.

How to report sexual assault or sexual harassment

The University has defined procedures on how to manage complaints or concerns, including of a sexual nature.  Staff can access information to support and guide them on making a complaint or raising a concern.

The procedure also includes information on how to escalate serious complaints, including where there is a risk to the health and safety of a person, where the conduct complained of is unlawful or where there is evidence of serious prolonged or systemic issues.
The Staff Complaints Procedure can be accessed here.

How to report concerning or threatening behaviour

Concerning behaviour is where you are worried or concerned about a person’s actions or choices.  Threatening behaviour is when you are fearful or feel that imminent physical danger to yourself or others is likely.

Concerning or threatening behaviour can be reported online through the University’s ROAR system. Further information about concerning and threatening behaviour is available on our Safety at Work website.

How to help someone

Recognise the effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment

Sexual assault and sexual harassment affects everyone differently, but often includes physical and emotional trauma. These impacts can be severe and long-lasting, and may affect a person’s ability to study, work, socialise and maintain relationships. The effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment can also impact upon friends, family members and loved ones, as well as fellow students and staff.

The possible effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating on simple tasks
  • Mood swings and angry outbursts
  • Hyper-vigilance – feeling that your surroundings are always unsafe
  • Avoiding or disengaging from social activities
  • Intrusive thoughts, recurrent dreams, or flashbacks
  • Feeling isolated
  • Self-harming, suicidal ideation

Respond to disclosure

The first response to a person who tells you they have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment is critical to their wellbeing, recovery and decision-making. Decisions should not be made for the person who has shared this information with you. Rather, they should be referred to appropriate support.

Your response should focus on supporting the person to get the help they need. It is important to be supportive and non-judgemental, and here are some simple actions you can take:

  • Listen to and acknowledge the person’s disclosure
  • Recognise how difficult it is for a person to disclose
  • Affirm that it was not their fault – perpetrators are responsible for their own actions
  • Accept difference of opinion, be non-judgmental
  • Be supportive and encouraging.

If someone discloses their experience of sexual assault or sexual harassment, it is important to respect their confidentiality. It may be necessary to discuss the disclosure with other people on a need to know basis, but you should be mindful of limiting the number of people who are made aware of the disclosure.

It is important to also care for yourself. Exposure to a person’s experience of trauma may impact upon your own mental and physical wellbeing – this is known as vicarious trauma. If you find someone’s disclosure has impacted on your wellbeing, then you are encouraged to contact the Employee Assistance Program to seek further advice and support. Speak with your HR Representative for assistance if required.

Refer the person to appropriate support

It is critical that people who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment are given access to appropriate support. Unless you are a clinical psychologist, it is inappropriate for you to personally offer counselling or advice.

When someone discloses to you, encourage them to access on and off campus support. A good question to ask is “What kind of support do you need right now?”. Details of support available at the University and via external services can be found here.

Specialist sexual assault counselling services talk to people about the options available to them, and can provide information to anyone supporting a person who has experienced a sexual assault.

Keep a record

Should a criminal investigation or internal discipline process take place following the disclosure, anyone involved may be called to give evidence. Notes and documents may also form evidence. Every effort should be made to ensure that written records are clear, accurate and appropriate.

However, keep in mind that you are not investigating or gathering evidence. You are simply recording the things you are told and what you observed.

Following a disclosure, you should consider recording the following:

  • Name of the person disclosing
  • Time and date of disclosure
  • Time, date and location of the incident
  • Brief description of disclosure.

Respect. Now. Always

Preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment at Macquarie University

The University’s Respect. Now. Always. program aims to improve our capacity to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment. All staff and students share a responsibility to play the role of an active bystander against all forms of sexual assault and sexual harassment when safe to do so. An active bystander is someone who becomes aware of a situation where sexual assault and sexual harassment has the potential to occur, is occurring or has occurred, and intervenes or takes action in response.

Actions that you can take include:

  • Contact emergency response services to intervene (Police – 000 or Campus Security – (02) 9850 9999)
  • Speak out against sexual assault or sexual harassment, when safe to do so
  • Recognise and address situations which have the potential for sexual assault or sexual harassment
  • Challenge attitudes and language that promote sexual assault or sexual harassment – particularly in the classroom or workplace
  • Support people who have been affected by sexual assault or sexual harassment
  • Lead by example – we all have a responsibility in making Macquarie University a safe place for all to work and study.

For more information on Respect. Now. Always, visit the project page.

Back to the top of this page