Sexual misconduct

Sexual misconduct includes any kind of inappropriate or unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. It includes sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual grooming.

Sexual misconduct is never ok. It does happen, and we need to make sure everyone involved in sport and recreation is safe and free from this harmful behaviour.

Understanding sexual misconduct

Sexual misconduct is unwanted, inappropriate or illegal sexual behaviour. It can be unlawful and is unacceptable in sport and recreation.

You or someone you know may experience or be affected by harmful sexual behaviour. It can affect anyone. Sexual misconduct includes:

  • unwanted sexual touching, contact, staring or leering

  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you

  • forcing or pressuring you into sexual activity

  • unwanted sexual attention or comments, for example, asking about your sexual preferences or history, or making sexual comments about you

  • an adult making any sexual contact or comments towards someone under 16, regardless of whether the young person consents to the behaviour

  • an adult developing a relationship with a child, young person, or vulnerable person to lead to sexual contact. This is often known as grooming

  • someone using a position of power or trust to enter into a sexual or intimate relationship

  • someone taking, sharing or showing images of a sexual nature without your consent

  • sending you unwanted sexually explicit or suggestive emails, texts, or other social media messages.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is sexual activity where consent isn’t or can’t be given. It is illegal. Always take complaints seriously: it can happen to anyone, and the abuser can be someone you know.

Abusers sometimes use their position of power or trust to start an unwanted or inappropriate sexual or intimate relationship. In sport and recreation, it could be a coach, support person, or teammate targeting vulnerable or younger participants.

Sexual abuse often involves grooming or coercion. For adults, grooming can make it seem like the sex is consensual but it may not be.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour. It can be discrimination and against the law. Making offensive sexual jokes, asking you unwanted sexual questions about your sex life or unwanted sexual advances are all forms of sexual harassment.

It can be a single incident or repeated behaviour. It is still sexual harassment even if the person doesn’t know or realise they are being offensive.

Read sexual harassment guidelines from the Human Rights Commission –


Grooming can happen at any level of sport and recreation. It can happen to anyone, of any age. Often the person grooming others is friendly, trusted, and gets on with everyone.

Grooming happens over time, and can be in person, online or over social media. It’s when someone slowly builds a trusted relationship to break down barriers with the intention of sexually abusing a person. They may also build relationships with the person’s friends, teammates, family and whānau.

Grooming behaviour to look out for

It’s hard to spot if you don’t know what to look for. Recognising the behaviour early on helps stop it progressing further.

Grooming behaviour you might see or experience yourself.

  • Targeting a vulnerable person, for example, someone who is having a hard time at home.

  • Building trust and friendship. Spending more time with them than necessary, buying gifts, making them feel extra special by acting like their best friend.

  • Isolating and controlling a person; building loyalty. Creating a situation where they are alone with the abuser through restricting access to friends and family. Making them feel they can only rely on the abuser.

  • Making the person being groomed feel guilty or bad. Saying they owe them for the time and effort the abuser has spent on them.

  • Sexual abuse and secrecy. Pushing verbal or physical boundaries over time. For example, sexually explicit jokes or inappropriate touching. Threatening the person if they tell anyone what’s happened.

Child grooming

Recognising child grooming and what you can do

When the risk of sexual misconduct is greater

Anyone can experience sexual misconduct. It’s not your fault and you’re not alone. It can happen at any level of sport and recreation. While it can be more likely to happen to women, men can also be sexually abused or harassed.

The risk of sexual misconduct is greater when:

  • there’s opportunity, for example, at an overnight training camp

  • there are vulnerable team members who may be seen as easy targets

  • there is a power imbalance, for example, a coach targeting an athlete

  • organisations or clubs don’t have adequate training or policies about preventing sexual misconduct.

Know what to look out for

It is the abuser who is ultimately responsible for causing sexual harm. But recognising when sexual misconduct is happening, and knowing what to do, can help protect people.

Sport and recreation organisations are responsible for taking the right steps to protect you and others against harm. They should have policies, guidelines and education resources that promote awareness and help protect participants from sexual misconduct.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to act if you suspect someone is being sexually abused, sexually harassed or groomed. If you know what to look for you can take action to protect people.

It is important to remember that everyone who experiences sexual abuse or misconduct responds differently. Instead of only focusing on specific signs, it is important to notice patterns or unexplained changes in health, behaviours, and attitude. This can help you recognise that something might be wrong and take action to support that person.

While these signs could be for any number of reasons, you may notice the following changes in someone who is being sexually abused or harassed.

  • Changes in a person’s appearance, unexplained or uncommon injuries, stress-related symptoms like repeated stomach aches, headaches.

  • A loss of self-esteem, confidence or mana.

  • Sudden or unexplained changes in mood, increased anxiety, or signs of depression.

  • Risk-taking behaviour or self-harm.

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts.

  • Poor performance, losing interest or dropping out of the sport or activity.

  • Sexual knowledge or behaviour that is not age and stage appropriate.

  • Preferring to be alone or avoiding team gatherings and social events. Making excuses not to attend practice.

  • Avoiding certain individuals, places, or activities without a clear reason.

Things you can do if you witness or suspect sexual misconduct

If you think someone is being sexually abused or harassed, or you suspect someone is being groomed, speak out. Staying silent or doing nothing means the behaviour is unlikely to stop and may get worse. There is help available and you’re not alone.

  • If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call the police on 111.

  • Where possible, support the person to leave the situation. Make sure this doesn’t put you or them at further risk.

  • Listen to the person, and reassure them you take the issue and their safety seriously.

  • Ask them what action they would like to take and how you can best support them to do that.

  • Let them know that they should escalate the issue and help them to work through the process.

  • Find out the details, who is involved, and how long it’s been happening. Write it down. Make sure the details are correct and in their words.

  • Report it as soon as possible to your organisation or club through the right channels, for example, the club’s safety officer or head of the organisation. Or someone skilled in this area or who you trust will be able to help.

  • Report it to us, the Commission’s independent dispute resolution service or another agency. For example, Netsafe.

  • Follow up with your club or organisation to check what steps they’ve taken to resolve the complaint.

  • Continue to check in with the person to see how they are doing. Give the person a list of support services they can contact.

  • You can also use support services. Or talk to someone you trust like friends, family and whānau if you are distressed.

  • You may want to approach the person accused of carrying out the sexual misconduct. Use the organisation or club policy to guide you on how best to do this, and what steps you should take.

What your club or organisation can do

  • Appoint someone in your club or organisation responsible for sexual misconduct policies and the complaints process. For example, the head of your club or organisation could take on the role.

  • Adopt and implement policies, and a code of conduct, which prohibits sexual misconduct.

    • Make sure they are fit for purpose and appropriate for the people they are designed for.

    • Make sure they are implemented through clear guidance and enforced.

    • Promote and communicate policies so that everyone knows where to find and access them.

  • Provide education programmes and guidance on preventing and recognising sexual misconduct for staff, volunteers, families and participants. Actively communicate this, and make sure everyone is aware. Include:

    • what is (and is not) acceptable behaviour,

    • steps to take to prevent and recognise sexual misconduct

    • how to report an incident or make a complaint.

  • Make reporting easy

    • Make sure everyone knows how to report an incident or make a complaint. Include where, who, and how they can report sexual misconduct. Make it clear that it is safe to report.

    • Have clear lines of reporting and actions for when people do speak up.

    • Have a clear process to follow up complaints and concerns.

  • Take concerns and complaints seriously, particularly from vulnerable people. Tell us at the Commission – and other services if it’s appropriate, such as the police or Netsafe – so it can be investigated by someone skilled in this area.

  • Make sure everyone in the club or organisation knows all complaints and concerns will be handled correctly and remain confidential.

Report an incident or make a complaint

Call the police on 105 to report an incident or call 111 if it’s an emergency.

We encourage you to report an incident or make complaint using our free and independent service. When you make a complaint, it can be to more than one person or place.

Make a complaint

Support services

You may be upset or worried about harmful behaviour or a serious incident you have seen or experienced. Access these services if you or someone else needs support or advice.

In an emergency, call the police on 111.

Find and contact support services