Labelling sexually active schoolgirls “sluts” and other name calling was the most common form of sexual harassment in schools, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said earlier this year. She said that, although no data existed on sexual harassment in schools, it was a serious social problem with one in four Australians experiencing it at least once throughout their working lives.
"It doesn't occur in quite the same way I think it occurs amongst adults, for example you don't get the same instance of rape and sexual assault between school children, but you certainly get a lot of name calling and a lot of verbal abuse that amounts to sexual harassment," Ms Goward said. "It's interesting kids are very conscious of harassment coming from staff ... but they are not quite so confident when it's their peers."
Ms Goward's comments underline the need for schools to have good anti-harassment policies and to educate their students in such matters.
As a recent Victorian case shows, employers can be vicariously liable when their employees sexually harass other employees. A 40 year old store manager harassed a 16 year old sales assistant by unwanted touching and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. The company which owned the shop had not implemented any harassment policy or procedure for resolving disputes nor had it trained the shop manager in the area of harassment prevention. The company was liable for its manager’s actions since it had not taken reasonable precautions in ensuring that the anti-discrimination laws were not contravened. As a result, the company was ordered to pay damages to the sales assistant.
This case shows how it is important for employers to ensure they have protected both their employees from harassment and themselves against liability for the actions of employees through the implementation and application of anti-harassment policies.
If your school requires help in checking existing policies or drafting new ones.