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What is Sexual Harassment

How is it defined?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated. Sexual harassment is defined as a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

How does it manifest?

Sexual harassment can manifest itself in the following forms:

  • Unwanted sexual comments, statements, anodes, questions or jokes
  • Physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advancements, gestures, touching, and various forms of sexual assault
  • Displaying objects, images, or drawings of an explicit sexual nature
  • Sending emails with unwarranted sexual content
  • A pattern of conduct that would discomfort or humiliate the victim
  • Remarks about sexual activity or speculations about previous sexual experiences
  • Coercion by the threat of sexual punishment

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 harassment 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.

Where can I get support about this?

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.

If you are in immediate danger, always call 999.