Data Briefing Series — Retail Harassment

Harassment at retail premises is on the rise as lockdowns are set to ease

New McKell Institute analysis of NSW crime data shows that incidences of intimidation, stalking and harassment at retail and wholesale premises has increased substantially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most severe NSW Public Health Orders are expected to be lifted in October 2021. Retailers will be required to ensure ongoing compliance with measures such as QR code check-in and mask wearing. Support for retail workers during this time will be essential.

Key findings

  • Intimidation, stalking and harassment incidents at retail/wholesale premises increased by 22 per cent since before the COVID-19 pandemic (2018-19 to 2020-21).
  • The recent increase represents an acceleration of a ten-year trend which has seen incidents increase 66 per cent to 2,514 in 2020-21.
  • Incidents in the Sydney LGA have increased by 42 per cent throughout the pandemic.
  • Of the Sydney LGAs with more than 60 incidents, the largest increase in offences occurred in LGAs with significant business districts*:

  • 65 per cent of LGAs experienced an increase in incidents (85 of 131)
  • 20 of the mostly smaller, regional LGAs increased incidents by more than 100 per cent


As Sydneysiders look forward to more liberties in the summer, there is a risk that incidences anti-social behaviour at retail venues continue to increase. The increase may be exacerbated by requirements that retail workers enforce public health requirements such as QR codes and the wearing of masks.

Hospitality venues are also due to reopen in the coming months on the current roadmap. They will be required to ensure only vaccinated patrons are present in their venues. It is likely that an increase in incidences in retail venues will be reflected in the rate of incidents at hospitality venues once they reopen. Current rates are subdued, likely because of closures.

Intimidation and harassment will also impact the ability of retailers to attract and maintain employees. As the NSW Government prepares to re-open the economy, it should make concerted efforts to ensure the wellbeing of staff in all frontline businesses.

Contact for Media Comment

Michael Buckland
CEO, McKell Institute 0401 089 932