Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in Universities: Help and Advice
Whether you are female or male, if you are experiencing or you have experienced sexual harassment, violence or rape by your university, here you can find help and advice on useful steps you could take, you could read experiences of other people in a similar situation, share your experience and find resources that may help you.
Incidents of sexual harassment, misconduct and gender-based violence have reached "epidemic" levels at British universities. Sexual harassment and sexual violence towards others, whether they are female or male, is never right.
This continues to happen at British universities, it does not mean it is acceptable nor does it mean students and society should accept it, whether directly impacted or not. If you have been a victim of this, it is unfortunate, but it is not your fault. You do not have to accept this or allow it to continue: you have the power to change your situation and you have the power to choose how to react to what is going on.
Life is too short to suffer in silence and your life and your future far too important to allow yourself to be a victim. You can decide how you react to this.
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Help and advice if you have been sexually harassed in a university
- What is sexual harassment?
- There are many different types of sexual harassment:
- Verbal or written sexual harassment:
- Making comments about your clothing, body, behaviour, or romantic relationships
- Making sexual jokes or comments
- Repeatedly asking you out on a date after you have said no
- Asking you to engage in sexual acts, such as kissing, touching, watching a sexual act, or having sex
- Requesting sexual photos or videos of you
- Threatening you for saying no to a sexual request
- Spreading rumours about your personal or sexual life
- Whistling or catcalling
- Sending online links or photos with explicit or graphic sexual content
- Physical sexual harassment:
- Being uncomfortably close to you
- Blocking you from moving or walking away
- Inappropriate touching
- Coercing you into sexual activity by threatening to hurt your career, grades, home, or reputation (this is a type of sexual assault) if you do not engage in sexual activity
- Physically forcing into sexual activity without your consent (rape and sexual assault)
- Visual sexual harassment
- Displaying or sharing sexual pictures, texts (sexting), computer wallpaper, or emails
- Showing you his or her private body parts (called “flashing”)
- Masturbating in front of you
Sometimes you may experience other types of harassment that may be difficult to document or prove, but that can still be threatening. These can include someone staring at your body in a sexual way or making offensive sexual gestures or facial expressions.
You have the right not to be harassed or bullied, not even by your tutor or lecturer. What is happening is wrong and there is no excuse for their behaviour. Sadly, if this is happening to you, it is likely to have happened to others; it's a small consolation, but you are probably not alone.
What can you do to stop sexual harassment?
As with all other types of abuse, if you are being sexually harassed, it is not your fault. You can take steps to alert others to the harassment and protect yourself from the person harassing you. Many types of sexual harassment are against the law. If you are being sexually harassed, try one or all of these actions:
- Say “no” without saying anything else. If a harasser asks you for dates or sexual acts, just say “no.” You do not need to offer excuses like “I have a boyfriend,” or “I don’t date people I work with.” If you give a reason or an excuse, it gives the harasser a way to continue the conversation or to argue with you. Physically leave the situation if you can. If the person continues to ask you for unwanted dates or sexual behaviour, report them to someone in authority whose job it is to help you stop the harassment, such as a human resources manager.
- Tell the person to stop the harassment, if you feel safe enough to do that. If someone is harassing you by making sexual comments or showing sexual images, tell them that the comment or image is not OK with you. Saying “Stop it” and walking away is a good way to respond also.
- Ask your Students Union or Student Representative for help. If you are a woman, many Students Unions have an Officer for Women and some may have an officer who deals with sexual harassment complaints.
- Keep a record. When you experience harassment, write down the dates, places, times, and any witnesses to what happened. Store the record in a secure place, such as your phone. If the harassment happened online, save screenshots or emails of the interactions.
- Report it. It can be difficult to talk about personal problems, but - if you can - you should tell your university. Describe the harassing experiences and explain that they are unwelcome and you want them to stop. If you can, it’s best to make your report in writing so you can save a record of it. Keep copies of everything you send and receive from your university about the harassment.
- Research your university’s complaint procedures. Most universities should have a specific procedure on how to respond to sexual harassment complaints. If at work, get a copy of your university’s handbook so you can use these procedures to stop the harassment.
- Consider if the sexual harassment you are experiencing may be a crime. If it is, you could consider reporting it to the police.
From Women's Health
Looking after yourself if you have experienced sexual harassment
If your mental health is being affected, try and seek help as early as possible. Many university and colleges offer free counselling for students. Some charities sometimes offer free counselling or a telephone helpline. Charities like Mind or the Samaritans may be able to help you free of charge. Don't suffer alone: there are many people in a similar situation to you, so you are not alone even though you may feel that.
For further Help and Advice on deaing with sexual harassment in universities
- Your Students Union or Students Rep
- Your local law centre(s): they are free centres where you can receive advice for your claim.
- Citizens Advice
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