Sexual Harassment

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment, remember:

You are not alone. The NUS Hidden Marks survey revealed that 65% of the women students that responded had experienced one or more forms of verbal harassment on campus while a student at their current institution and 34% had experienced one or more of forms of physical harassment.

It is not your fault. No woman deserves to be sexually harassed no matter where she was, what she was doing, what she was wearing or what she was saying.

There is support available. This website contains information about sexual harassment support resources and your student union will also be able to help you and point you towards any local support services.

If you have been/ are being sexually harassed by someone you know intimately, see the domestic violence section.


What is sexual harassment?

There is no strict definition of the term sexual harassment, but it is commonly understood to describe unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. The behaviours described below are all examples of sexual harassment (please note this is not a comprehensive list and other behaviours may also count as sexual harassment).

  • Someone making sexual comments that made you feel uncomfortable (including verbally, over the Internet or via text message)
  • Someone wolf whistling, catcalling or making sexual noises at you
  • Someone asking you questions about your sex or romantic life when it was clearly none of their business
  • Someone asking you questions about your sexuality when it was clearly none of their business
  • Someone exposing their sexual organs to you when you did not agree
  • Someone groping, pinching or smacking your bottom when you did not agree to them doing so
  • Someone groping, pinching or touching your breasts when you did not agree to them doing so
  • Someone lifting up your skirt in public without them agreeing

The first four categories may be understood as ‘verbal harassment’, and the second four as ‘physical/non-verbal harassment’.

‘Almost every time me and my friends go out to a club you can guarantee that one of us will have some kind of violence or unwanted attention forced on us by drunk men. Normally they will just rub themselves up against you or make sexual comments, but there have been more serious incidents. Once one of my friends was dancing and a man just came up behind her and grabbed her crotch. She was obviously really upset and we left. Another time a man called another of my friends a slag and threatened to spit on her because she accidentally bumped into him and his drink spilt.’

– Hidden Marks survey respondent

‘I was followed and harassed by a male international student after a student society event… he followed me to the bus stop, and then tried to get me to go home with him, persisting even after I told him I was in a relationship. Without my consent he tried to kiss me. I didn’t kick up a fuss because he was a big guy, and I was alone, so I tried to keep things calm despite his persistent and unwanted verbal and physical advances. Basically, I was too frightened that he would become violent to assert myself properly.’

– Hidden Marks survey respondent

Where can I find more information about sexual harassment?
I would like to speak to someone about sexual harassment.
I want to contact a support service that deals with sexual harassment.
Can my student union help me?
How can I access free legal advice?
I would like to discuss my experiences of sexual harassment with other victims.
I am thinking about reporting sexual harassment.
How common is sexual harassment among women students?

Where can I find more information about sexual harassment?

Sexual Harassment Support

Sexual Harassment Support is a US-based online support community for anyone who has experienced sexual harassment. Their website has information on topics such as sexual harassment in education; why sexual harassment is difficult to confront; effects of sexual harassment; what to do if you are being sexually harassed.

About Equal Opportunities

This website has a section on tackling sexual harassment, including information about sexual harassment and the law.

Safe Workers

This website has a section on sexual harassment, including information about what constitutes sexual harassment and what to do about sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment in the Work Place (2007)

The Equal Opportunities Commission have conducted a literature review on sexual harassment in the work place, offering a detailed discussion of this phenomenon, with which links to student experiences of sexual harassment can be drawn.

One Step Too Far

The One Step Too Far initiative is part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s “The Right to be Safe”, a 6 year integrated strategy for tackling all forms of violence against women, and particularly behaviour such as sexual harassment which is not always thought of as violence. It asks individuals to re-assess the impacts of their own behaviour and that of their peers. The absolute cut-off between harmless and abusive is subject to debate, and depends on the context and on the individuals concerned. One thing is not open for debate however, and that is that any behaviour that degrades, humiliates or frightens a woman is unacceptable. The One Step Too Far video clearly communicates this message:

‘I have been followed around in one of my campus bars even though I told the guy I was uninterested… he finally stopped when he forced a kiss on me (with tongue) when I was coming out of the bathroom which my friend witnessed and yelled at him for.’

– Hidden Marks survey respondent

I would like to speak to someone about sexual harassment.

Rights of Women

For free, confidential, legal advice on harassment contact Rights of Women women lawyers on 020 7251 6577 (020 7490 2562 textphone). Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday 2–4pm and 7–9pm. Also open Friday, 12–2pm.

Rape Crisis

Phone the National Freephone helpline for female and male survivors of rape and sexual violence (including sexual harassment) as well as partners, friends and family– 0808 802 9999 (open every day of the year, 12-2.30pm and 7 to 9.30pm) providing:

  • Emotional support;
  • Practical information;
  • information for family, friends and partners of survivors;
  • Regional and national information resource;
  • Signposting to other agencies in the UK.

The Freephone number ensures complete confidentiality as the number will not appear on your bill.

I want to contact a support service that deals with sexual harassment.

Rape Crisis

Rape Crisis (England and Wales) provides co-ordination for the national network of Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales.

Rape Crisis Centres are frontline services providing crucial support and independent advocacy for all women and girls of all ages who have experienced any form of sexual violence. Rape Crisis centres aim to offer specialist support, advocacy, counselling and information to women and girls, free of charge and in confidence, in a safe and non-threatening environment. To find a centre near you, click here.

I would like to discuss my experiences of sexual harassment with other victims.

The Sexual Harassment Support Forum

The Sexual Harassment Support Forum (SHSF) is a US-based online, peer-to-peer support group and discussion board for people who have been sexually harassed or stalked in any kind of setting.  The forum strives to provide a safe, non-judgemental environment for support and understanding in discussions on the problem of sexual harassment, the surrounding dynamics, and the common effects.

Can my students’ union help me?

Yes. Your students’ union is designed to be your first port-of-call for resolving any problems you experience as a student and will be able to help you find the support you need. If your institution has a Student Advice Service, they will be able to direct you to the most relevant person or service. Alternatively contact the Welfare Officer, Women’s Officer or President of your Students’ Union. If the person sexually harassing you is a student, you can report them to your student union who will be able to support you and subject him to the relevant disciplinary procedures.

I am thinking about reporting sexual harassment.

Visit the Rights & Reporting page for more information about reporting sexual harassment.

How common is sexual harassment among women students?

Verbal harassment on campus

The NUS Hidden Marks survey found that 65% of the women students that responded had experienced one or more forms of verbal harassment on campus while a student at their current institution, with a total of 3833 incidents being reported by 1210 respondents in this category. This behaviour was most likely to happen in and around college or university buildings (53 % of total reported incidents). The most common behaviours reported were making sexual comments and sexual noises that made the respondent feel uncomfortable. 43% of respondents reported being on the receiving end of wolf-whistling, catcalling or someone making noises with a sexual overtone in and around their university or college buildings.

‘I have been present where male students have discussed other female students – and women in general – in sexual and quite aggressively negative ways; when myself or others have expressed discomfort, we have been mocked and ostracised from that social group (not necessarily a bad thing to know who the idiots are, but it is difficult to have a working relationship with someone who you know regards all women as inferior, or as sexual objects).’ – Hidden Marks survey respondent

Physical harassment on campus

With regard to physical harassment, 34 % of respondents of the Hidden Marks survey said they had experienced one or more of forms of physical harassment during their time as a student. Students were most likely to report that they have had their bottom groped, pinched or smacked in a students’ union or at a union event (19%) with 14 per cent reporting this happening in and around their institution. 6 per cent stated that their breasts have been touched without their consent in a students’ union, and a further 5 per cent reported this happening to them in their institution. 6 per cent have been ‘flashed’ at in and around their institutional buildings. The Hidden Marks survey also asked students whether they had been subject to unwanted sexual contact (unwanted kissing, molesting or touching including through clothes) whilst they have been a student, but not necessarily on campus. 16 per cent of respondents said that this had happened to them during the course of their student experience so far.

‘I was approached by a group of male students as I was walking out of my halls of residence and they were all shouting sexual things at me and then one of them approached me, grabbed me around the waist and then started to touch my breasts and bottom. He was saying things like ‘you know you want this’ and ‘you know you’re up for this’.’

– Hidden Marks survey respondent

‘I have been repeatedly groped/smacked on my bottom on several occasions whilst in student clubs and bars, and when I have confronted the men they have either seemed shocked/embarrassed that I didn’t like receiving this kind of attention or have found it funny that I have been unhappy.’

– Hidden Marks survey respondent

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