Home | Browse Topics | Schools & kura | Health, safety, and wellbeing | Sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour

Schools & kura

Health, safety, and wellbeing

Sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour


This section has information about:

  • the legal definition of sexual harassment
  • what the school should teach about sexual violence
  • what happens if someone has shared inappropriate or nude images without your consent
  • inappropriate behaviour by teachers.

It does not cover crimes like sexual assault or rape. For information about sexual violence, see “Rape, sexual assault and family (domestic) violence” in the “Gender and sexuality” chapter of the Community Law Manual

What is the law about sexual harassment?

Human Rights Act 1993; Training Act 2020, s 127

Sexual harassment is against the law in all “public areas”, which includes schools and kura. Schools have a responsibility to create a physically and emotionally safe place, and to uphold the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment as both:

  • Repeated and unwanted sexual behaviours that cause harm – Physical behaviour, language or visual material of a sexual nature, which is unwelcome or offensive, and either repeated or significant enough to have a detrimental effect on the person subjected to it.
  • Asking for sexual acts – A request for sexual activity in a way that suggests, or clearly means that you’ll be treated less favourably or badly if you don’t agree to the activity. For example, if a coach asked you to do something sexual in order to be chosen for a sports team.

Different types of harassing behaviours can be described as:

  • Verbal – crude or sexually inappropriate language, jokes, comments, spreading sexual rumours or homophobic language.
  • Physical– unwanted touching of any kind.
  • Digital – comments online, posting or sending inappropriate photos.
  • Visual – graffiti that is disturbing, sending pornography unsolicited.

Where can I report sexual harassment?

If you want to make a report or compliant about sexual harassment you can contact:

  • a school staff member you trust
  • the Teaching Council Complaints Assessment Authority, who can refer the compliant to the Disciplinary Tribunal (if the harassment is by a teacher)
  • the Human Rights Commission.

For contact details see, “Where to go for more support” at the end of this guide

What is the school’s role in responding to sexual harassment?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 127

The school has a responsibility to provide a physically and emotionally safe place, as well as follow the law under the Human Rights Act.

However, many schools do not have a specific process for dealing with sexual harassment. Depending on the behaviour involved, it could be appropriate to follow the school’s process for responding to bullying. See “How should the school respond if I report bullying?” earlier in this chapter

The law about the school’s responsibility to respond to incidents of sexual harassment hasn’t been tested in the courts. It’s unclear what actions can expected of school boards to respond to sexual harassment specifically.

What should my school be teaching us about sexual violence?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 91; Relationship and Sexuality Education, Ministry of Education

Sexual violence education is a part of relationship and sexuality education. The Ministry of Education has guidelines about how schools should teach this. Your school should be teaching you:

  • what sexual violence is
  • how to prevent it
  • where to seek help and support, and
  • how to support others if they tell you about an experience of sexual violence (known as disclosure).

Your school can also organise for you to attend external programmes such as RespectEd.

Is it illegal for someone to share inappropriate images of me?

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, s 4 (see definition “intimate visual recording”)

It is illegal (depending on the exact situation) for someone to send, share or threaten to send “intimate images” of you without your consent.

“Intimate images” are photos or videos of someone nude or semi-nude. Even if you took the image yourself and sent to another person, it is a breach of your privacy if that person shares the image when you expected them to keep it private.

If this has happened, contact Youth Law or a Community Law Centre to help you assess your situation.

For more information, see “Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment” in the “Harassment and bullying” chapter of the Community Law Manual

What if my teacher says or does something sexually inappropriate?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 10, 496, 497, 500

It’s unacceptable, and against the law for a teacher to:

  • have an intimate or sexual relationship with a student
  • make comments of a sexual nature about a student’s appearance
  • suggest they want to have sex with a student.

Teachers have legal and ethical responsibilities under the Education and Training Act, the Teaching Council’s code of conduct, and the criminal law. If a teacher has broken these, they can face serious consequences.

If something has happened, talk to someone you trust, like a parent, a different teacher, a guidance counsellor, or another adult.

Contact your nearest Community Law Centre, or the Students Rights Service for free legal advice.

The school principal must report the teacher’s behaviour to the Teaching Council Complaints Assessment Authority (CAC), who can refer the compliant to the Disciplinary Tribunal. You and your whānau can also make a report to the CAC.

For contact details see, “Where to go for more support” at the end of this guide

Did this answer your question?

Health, safety, and wellbeing

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

Also available as a book

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top