About sexual assault, harassment and hate crime

Serious incidents such as sexual assault, harassment and hate crime, although rare, do happen to students, and as noted in the 2016 UUK Taskforce report: "These experiences can have a considerable impact on student wellbeing, academic attainment, student retention, institutional reputation and future student recruitment." Definitions are provided below for each type of incident, including the reasons why in some circumstances the University may use the phrase "sexual misconduct" or "non-academic misconduct" to describe incidents that meet these definitions.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, harassment or hate crime, support is available: see this section for more information. You may wish to report the incident to the Police to pursue criminal proceedings, or to the University who may pursue disciplinary proceedings: see this section for information about your reporting options.

Non-academic misconduct (including sexual misconduct)

Sexual assault, harassment and hate crime are legal terms used to describe criminal offences under UK law. As the University is not a court of law, where the University is investigating allegations against a student or member of staff, the term used will instead be "misconduct". Non-academic misconduct, including sexual misconduct, where committed by students is considered to be a breach of the University's Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline. You can read more about the distinction between criminal and disciplinary offences, and the role of the University and the Police, on this page.

Sexual assault

The term "sexual assault" is used on these pages to cover a range of contact offences, including rape, assault by penetration and causing sexual activity without consent. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, these are separate offences with their own definitions, but here we use "sexual assault" as an umbrella term for incidents involving sexual touching.

A 2010 NUS report showed that one in seven female students had experienced a serious sexual or physical assault whilst at university. A 2015 survey for the Telegraph put the number of female undergraduates who had experienced sexual assault or other "intrusive sexual behaviour" at 1 in 3.

There are a number of myths and misconceptions about sexual assault, many of which are tackled by the charity Refuge on this page. Key things to bear in mind include:

  • It is never the victim/survivor's fault
  • How someone dresses or acts is not a justification for assault
  • 90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim/survivor
  • If someone doesn't give, or is incapable of giving consent, it's sexual assault
  • Less than 3% of reported rapes are false reports
  • The police and the university will take all reports seriously: it is not the case that there is “no point” in reporting something, regardless of the perceived seriousness of the incident

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is defined by the charity Rape Crisis as: "any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that you find offensive or which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated". NUS' 2010 report "Hidden Marks" found that 68% of female students had experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment in and around their university, noting that such behaviour has become "almost 'everyday' for some women students".

Examples of behaviour that the University considers non-contact sexual misconduct offences include:

  • Sharing or creating private sexual materials such as videos and photographs in physical or online spaces
  • Sharing or creating public sexual materials (i.e. those pornographic materials that are widely available via media outlets) in physical or online spaces with the intention to sexually harass and/or incite gender-based violence
  • Inappropriately showing sexual organs to another person, or inappropriately allowing sexual organs to be seen, in a physical or online space
  • Repeated unwanted and unsolicited contact of a sexual nature with another person in person, by telephone, or in any online or digital space
  • Making unwanted remarks that may reasonably be perceived to be of a sexual nature (e.g. asking personal questions about sexual matters; making sexual comments about a person’s body; telling sexual jokes or stories; making sexual comments or innuendo)
  • Making unwarranted and unsolicited sex-based noises to another person (e.g. catcalling, wolf-whistling, sexual grunting or moaning)

Harassment and hate crime

Harassment may be non-sexual in nature, and can be linked to other personal characteristics such as an individual's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, which may constitute a hate crime. Some police forces also consider hatred of other characteristics such as age, or membership of a subculture, to constitute hate crimes.

Hate crimes are defined by the Citizens' Advice Bureau as "acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are or who someone thinks they are". They can take many forms, including:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Physical attacks
  • Threats
  • Online abuse
  • Arson
  • Destruction of property
  • Graffiti
  • Distributing hateful posters or leaflets