The work of Catholic schools is built on the teachings and living example of Jesus. Those teachings centre on relationships with God and relationships with each other. The Catholic tradition demands that each person be treated with reverence and dignity because each person is made in the image of God.
Harassment, in any of its forms, violates the essential dignity of the human person.
Because protecting the rights and dignity of the human person and promoting justice are central to the Catholic tradition, Catholic school communities should demonstrate leadership in challenging the cultures that support sexual harassment in schools.
Current civil legislation addresses sexual harassment in an uncompromising manner and makes serious legal demands of administrators and teachers in schools.
The elimination of sexual harassment is one of the focus areas in the "National Action Plan for the Education of Girls". The National Catholic Education Commission, on behalf of all Catholic schools, agreed to implement the National Action Plan and therefore Catholic schools are committed to taking steps to eliminate sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment includes any kind of behaviour that targets a person’s sexuality or gender to gain or reinforce power and dominance over that person. Sexual harassment demeans the victim and is distinguished from healthy interpersonal relations by this characteristic. It is too often unrecognised, trivialised and accepted as teasing or joking. It does not have to be explicitly sexual. It is, however, generally based on unequal relationships and the victim of sexual harassment is made to feel powerless and uncomfortable through fear, hurt, embarrassment or anger.
Sexual harassment includes three categories of behaviour; sexist harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Sexist harassment is behaviour which insists that gender stereotypes be maintained and exercised in relationships. It promotes gender divisions in task or work allocation, or is aimed at restricting access to career opportunities and responsibilities on the basis of gender. Sexual harassment is behaviour of a sexual nature which is deliberate, uninvited, unwelcome and usually repeated and which is perceived by the recipient to be embarrassing, offensive, demeaning or compromising. Sexual assault is an inclusive term which covers a number of criminal offences such as indecent assault, aggravated assault, rape and so on.
The Anti Discrimination Act (1991) makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex. It further prohibits less favourable treatment for one person over another on the basis of gender. Falling within the Act’s identification of discrimination is sexual harassment. The Act defines sexual harassment in the following way:
When a person subjects another person to an unsolicited act of physical intimacy; makes an unsolicited demand or request (whether directly or by implication) for sexual favours from another person; or makes a remark or sexual connotations relating to the other person; or engages in any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the other person; and the person engaging in the conduct does so with the intention of offending, humiliating or intimidating the other person or in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated a possibility that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the conduct.
The Act spells out some examples of behaviours which are forms of sexual harassment. These are:
The Anti Discrimination Act makes it clear that schools and those responsible for our children are legally bound to prevent sexual and sex-based harassment. All Catholic employing authorities are subject to vicarious liability in cases of sexual harassment by a teacher against a student and where student to student harassment occurs, schools are bound to investigate the incident. The strategies that follow are the minimum set of strategies to put in place to comply with the legislation.
Students will be instructed on how to identify harassment, e.g. inappropriate comments, touching, gestures, bullying. In the first instance they will report directly to their classroom teacher.
N.B. Children should also be made aware of the sexual harassment officer’s role, in the event that the complaint is about their teacher.
Complaints against staff should be taken initially to the sexual harassment officer who should report immediately to the Principal. If the Principal is away contact should be made by phone. If the Principal is unavailable the area supervisor should be contacted.
Unless a complaint is about the Principal all complaints must be reported to the Principal. If the complaint is about the Principal the sexual harassment officer should contact the area supervisor.
The sexual harassment officer and Principal must keep accurate and detailed reports of each complaint. All sexual harassment complaints will be referred to the area supervisor.
Once a complaint has been made the Principal will inform the person involved that a complaint has been lodged against them and a meeting will be set up to address the complaint. The person who has the complaint against them is entitled to have a staff or union representative with them during the meeting and any subsequent meeting. The person who has had the complaint against them must not approach the person who lodged the complaint until instructed by the Principal.
A complaint of sexual harassment is an extremely serious matter. In the event that the safety and well-being of students and staff are threatened, the Principal may suspend a staff member until the complaint is sorted. This is a precautionary measure and does not intimate guilt.