Sexual harassment and everyday sexism

Definitions, regulations, strategies and support for young people and children.

This research aims to provide a map and stock of current research and policy frameworks addressing sexual harassment in relation to young people and children. It situates sexual harassment along a continuum that includes sexualisation, abuse and everyday sexism. It seeks to clarify current terminology, and canvass the range of regulatory, legal, social and popular definitions of sexual harassment across public sector services that support, educate or deal with young people and children.  This includes identifying research that explores the perspectives of young people and children on these matters.

The age range is significant, especially in relation to legal definitions and the overlaps with bullying, notably in the context of reports on the increasing incidence of sexting and cyber or online bullying and abuse. Definitions of sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act state that it is unlawful for:

  • A teacher or a student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a student
  • A student over the age of 16 to sexually harass a teacher

This raises the question of policies and reporting mechanisms that may or may not be in place for young people under the age of 16.  Further clarification is also needed on how comparable policies and regulations are defined, developed and implemented beyond the education sector, and importantly how young people and children themselves engage with and understand such policies.

Key questions and aims

  • How is sexual harassment defined and regulated across public sector services and agencies dealing with young people and children?
  • What are the key features, benefits and limitations of current policy approaches and strategies in place?
    • What are the consistencies and inconsistencies?
    • Where are there gaps, inadequacies, and challenges in design, implementation and review?
  • What are examples of best and effective practice, internationally and nationally? What are the lessons to be learnt from current work and what are fruitful future directions?


Julie McLeod [Melbourne Graduate School of Education, UoM]

Cathy Vaughan [Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, UoM]

Samantha Mannix [Melbourne Graduate School of Education, UoM]