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What is Sexual Assult

How is it defined?

Sexual assault is an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person's consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. Committing sexual assault is a criminal offence.

How does it manifest?

Sexual assault can manifest itself in the following forms:

  • Attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing or coercing someone to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
  • Penetration of the victim’s body (also known legally as rape)


What is Consent

How is it defined?

Consent can simply be defined as someone being able to freely give permission, or say 'yes', to sexual activity with another person(s).

To engage in sexual activities, one must first have the capacity to give consent. You cannot give consent if any of the following apply:

  • You are under the UK legal age of consent
  • You are under the influence of narcotics
  • You do not have the mental or physical capacity to freely agree
  • You are being threatened or coerced into the activity
  • You are being detained against your will

How do I get consent?

Consent must never be assumed. Each of us is responsible for making sure we have consent in every sexual situation. If you are ever unsure, it is important to clarify what your partner feels about the sexual situation before initiating (or continuing) the chosen sexual activity. Enthusiastic and verbal consent is always required for someone to consent to sexual activity.

Consent cannot be assumed by the following:

  • Body language, Appearance, or Non-Verbal Communication: One should never assume by the way a person dresses, smiles, looks or acts, that they want to have sex with you. Enthusiastic and verbal consent is always required.
  • Dating relationships or previous sexual activity: Simply because two or more people are dating or have had sex in the past does not mean that they are consenting to have sex with you.
  • Marriage: Even in marriage, a person should not assume they have consent for sexual activity. Marital rape is as serious as any other sexual assault.
  • Previous Activity: Consent to engage in one sexual activity at one time is not consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage in the same sexual activity on a later occasion.
  • Silence, Passivity, Lack of Resistance, or immobility: A person’s silence should not be considered consent. A person who does not respond to attempts to engage in sexual activity, even if they do not verbally say no or resist physically, is not clearly agreeing to sexual activity.
  • Incapacitation: Alcohol consumption or use of other drugs can render a person incapable of giving consent. Alcohol is often used as a weapon to target individuals and is used by perpetrators to excuse their own actions. It is important to remember that sexual assault is never the survivor's fault, regardless of whether they may have been intoxicated.


What do I do if I've been sexually assaulted?

We've got your back

If you have just been sexually assaulted then there are many emotional pathways you will likely follow. Some people say that they feel numb or shocked, confused or frightened or fragile or angry. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It might be helpful for you to know that many people that report having these negative feelings say that they do not last. You deserve peace.

Here are a number of activities that we initially recommend doing if you find yourself in this position:

  1. If you need urgent medical care or attention, call 999 and ask for an ambulance, or go straight to your nearest A&E department
  2. Get yourself somewhere that feels safe. This could be in your own home or even on a friends sofa. The important part is to find the kind of shelter that’s best for you individually.
  3. You might be in shock so try to keep yourself warm. You might have to put another layer on or wrap yourself up in a blanket
  4. See if a friend or someone you trust can be with you. It’s important to surround ourselves with loved and trusted people in these situations. This is also an individual decision as you know best who you feel most comfortable talking to regarding personal disclosures.
  5. It’s important to talk to someone about what you’ve experienced. Bottling up emotions and negative experiences will likely do more harm than good, so it’s good to find a place to open up and communicate what’s happened to someone else. This doesn’t have to be a personal friend, it could be a member of the Advice Centre team or you could call the National Rape Crisis Helpline at 0808 802 9999 (open between 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-21:30 every day of the year).
  6. However you are feeling, try to remind yourself that this is in no way your fault, you are not to blame, and you are not alone. We are here to support you in finding a recovery path that is best for you.

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can come and visit the Advice Centre (5th Floor of Student Central) to speak to us about your experiences. We can give you advice as to which pathways to reporting your abuse you can take, as well as support that doesn’t involve reporting, such as guiding you towards available support groups or counselling sessions. To see a comprehensive explanation for the services available to you as a student, as well as official reporting methods, please view our Reporting & Policy Guide. You can also see which charities that you might find beneficial on our Charities page. In addition to this, we have an ever-growing collection of self-help guides which are available at our Self Help Guide page.


How can I avoid being a bystander?

What’s a bystander?

A bystander is someone who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. 

With 62% of students in the UK saying that they have experienced either harassment or assault (or both) during their time at university, now is the time to recognise the role that bystanders can play in preventing this abuse.

Who can help?

It is important to remember that the only person responsible for committing sexual abuse is the perpetrator - but all of us have some ability to look out for each other’s safety. It can be simply giving someone a safe ride home from an event or directly confronting the person who is engaging in the inappropriate behaviour. Everyone has a part to play in preventing sexual abuse.

Why don't people help more often?

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to step into situations, even if you know you are doing the right thing. The following are common reasons given by bystanders as to why they’ve remained on the sidelines:

  • “I didn’t know exactly what to say or do”
  • “I didn’t want to cause more of a scene”
  • “It’s none of my business”
  • “I thought someone else would get involved and step in”
  • “I didn’t want my friend to be angry with me”

It’s very normal to have thoughts like this, but it is still important to recognise your role in preventing sexual harassment and to know that your actions can have a massive impact on a situation if you are in the place to help. Many situations can be prevented from happening in the first place by bystanders.

What’s my role?

The most important aspect of keeping your friends (and even complete strangers) safe is learning how to intervene appropriately to the situations and your personal comfort level. Having a full knowledge of these boundaries will help give you the confidence to step into a situation when issues occur. Stepping in can be the difference a situation needs, but you should never put your own safety at risk when doing so.

What can I do specifically to help?

One popular tactic used to rectify abusive situations is to interject directly - Do what you can to interrupt the situation. This can give the person at risk a chance of getting to a safe place.

  • Cut off the conversation being held with a diversion like “Come on, let’s get some snacks, I’m starving”, “I’m bored of this place, shall we head somewhere else?”, or “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you for so long! How have you been?”
  • Talk directly to the person who is in trouble, with questions like “Where are your friends?” and “Would you like me to stay with you for a while?”
  • If you can, refer the situation to an authoritative figure like a bouncer or bartender, as it should be in their best interest to keep their patrons safe, so they are usually willing to step in. If the situation requires it, do not hesitate to call 999 if you are concerned for someone’s safety.
  • Find others to support you. There is power in numbers when approaching the issue of sexual abuse as it can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. This may include asking someone to intervene if you are not capable, asking someone who knows the person at risk to support them or making sure that a friend of the person you are concerned about is actively supporting them.

Even if you are unable to change the outcome, just by stepping in you are helping to create change in the way people consider their role in preventing sexual abuse. Preventing bystander culture is always essential in supporting past and present survivors.