Bystander Action: Unwanted sexual advances

Unwanted sexual advances are any type of unwelcome sexual behaviour which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. It can be physical, spoken or written.

An unwanted sexual advance could range in severity from a passing cat-call from a car, to non-consensual sexual activity.

Below are some examples of what unwanted sexual advances could look like:

  • Sending unwanted photos.
  • Persistent or unsolicited messages or phone calls.
  • Leering and staring on public transport.
  • Grinding up against someone, for example in a club.
  • Stalking and following a person around.
  • Repeatedly asking for dates.
  • Making sexually offensive gestures, remarks or facial expressions.
  • Physically blocking a person’s movements, standing in their way.
  • Catcalling.
  • Coercion to perform sexual acts to maintain or progress in supervisory positions i.e. abusing a position of power in the workplace.

Being able to recognise when someone is receiving unwanted sexual advances, and knowing how to help safely intervene, can go a long way to stopping this behaviour in the future.

What does it look like on campus?

Below are some specific examples of unwanted sexual examples that can happen on campus, and some ideas on how you can intervene to be an active bystander.

Remember, we use the AIDED Model of Bystander Action at La Trobe, and it can help guide you decide what action to take to safely intervene. Read more about it here in the article about Sexual Harm.

A – Assign responsibility to another person
I – Intervene indirectly
D – Directly intervene by stepping in
E – Keep evidence of the incident
D – Divert the harm away from the target

Example 1

Your friend keeps receiving unwanted explicit nude images from someone they met at a party last Saturday, despite telling them to stop.

What to do?

  • Keep evidence of the messages and phone number.
  • Intervene indirectly by offering support to your friend. Let them know that there is support available.
  • Assign responsibility by helping your friend contact Safer Community, who can provide support, advice and referrals. Your friend could also report it to the police.

Example 2

At a student event on campus, a friend-of-a-friend buys your friend Sam a couple of drinks and each time Sam offers to pay for their own. At the end of the night, they suggest that Sam owes them sex for repayment.

What to do?

  • If you feel confident, directly intervene by telling the friend-of-a-friend that this isn’t appropriate. Sex is never ‘owed’.
  • Ask a mutual friend to intervene on Sam’s behalf; assign responsibility.
  • You could contact security if the situation escalates; campus security 03 9479 2222 if on campus, or police 000.

Example 3

A person walks past a group of students in the Agora; one person yells out, “She’s the slut that had sex with Johnny last night…Hey, want to have sex with me too?!” Their friends laugh as they walk away.

What to do?

  • Indirectly intervene by asking the person if they are ok.
  • Directly intervene by telling the catcaller it’s not ok to speak to someone that way.

Example 4

You are on a train on your way to Uni. You notice a man intensely staring at a woman across the isle from him. She keeps glancing away, looking uncomfortable.

What to do?

  • Divert the attention of the perpetrator by stepping into the middle of the isle, breaking the perpetrators gaze.
  • Ask the perpetrator a question, “Hey, do you know where stop [blank] is?”, again diverting his attention.


If you witness or experience any unwanted sexual advances and you need further support and advice, La Trobe has a variety of safety and security options you can contact depending on your situation, both on and off-campus. For a full list of extensive services, have a look at this article.

Reporting and disclosing within the University

In circumstances of unwanted sexual advances, or any unacceptable behaviour, consider the following options.

In an Emergency

  1. Call police or emergency services – (24 hours) Triple Zero ‘000’
  2. If on-campus then call Campus Security – (24 hours) 03 9479 8888. They need to be aware of the incident to let emergency services on campus if required and can assist until their arrival.

Safer Community

Contact Safer Community to disclose or report an incident.

It is a free, confidential* support service you can contact if you experience or witness concerning, threatening, inappropriate or uncomfortable behaviour. This behaviour can occur on-campus and off-campus, such as on public transport or in the home.

Safer Community provides expert advice and information. They also offer you options and referrals to help resolve your concerns to keep you and other safe.

*Refer to Safer Community website for a full privacy and confidentiality statement and limitations.