What should I do if I experience sexual assault as a student?

What should I do if I experience sexual assault

This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 17 March 2021.

University is a time for personal growth and transitioning into adulthood, and it’s not always a bump-free ride. Things can go wrong and if you’re the victim of sexual harassment or assault it can be hard to process the experience and know what to do. However, be assured your university and Students Union can support you.

It is important to remember that no level of harassment or assault is acceptable and that, no matter the circumstances, you are not to blame. Here, we explore how you can access help.

What should I do if I have been sexually harassed or assaulted?

Regardless of whether your experience was physical or verbal, help is available. 

Not everyone feels able to report their assault, and no one will force you to make a formal complaint if you don’t want to. However, informing the police or your university can help you get access to medical and emotional support, as they’ll be able to connect you with people and organisations who can help you. You can contact the police by calling 999 if you need urgent help. Otherwise, dial 101. 

If you have been raped or physically attacked, report the crime as soon as possible and avoid washing yourself or your clothes, so that as much evidence as possible can be gathered. This is difficult to do and may well go against all of your instincts in the aftermath of the attack, but it will increase the chances of your attacker being caught. 

What if I don’t want to report it to the police?

If you don’t want to report the assault to the police but think you need medical care, get in touch with your local sexual assault referral centre, which will be able to offer you medical and emotional aftercare. 

Consider telling your university – it might help them to take action in protecting other students from similar assaults. Be reassured that all UK universities take claims of sexual harassment and assault seriously and have procedures in place to help you, including the option to report an incident anonymously. Trained professionals will be on hand to discuss what options are available to you in confidence – no one at the university will tell your parents if you don’t want them to. 

Reporting sexual harassment and assault can be difficult, but there is support available to help you choose your next steps with your individual needs in mind. Telling someone not only increases the chance of your assaulter being reprimanded but will also go some way to helping you to process your experience and be offered support such as counselling.

Whether you want to report the assault or not, there are several organisations that can help you – see below for a list of people to talk to.

What if the attack happened off campus?

Your university will be able to support and help you even if the incident didn’t happen on campus. Whether your attacker has a connection to the university (as a member of staff or a student, for instance) or not, you will be given help and support. 

How do I report a student or member of staff?

You can report the perpetrator to your institution even if you wish to do so anonymously and without making a formal complaint. Get in touch with your university’s student support service and speak to an advisor – each university has a different department and process to deal with reports of this kind, so they can point you in the right direction. Alternatively, look on your university’s website for the best contact details. 

Who should I talk to if I have been sexually harassed or assaulted?

There are a few different routes you can take when it comes to talking to someone about your assault or experience of harassment. These services are there to help you and can offer not only immediate support but more long-term aid, too. 

The police

Whether you tell the police about your assault is entirely up to you, but it’s important to consider it as this may be the quickest way of getting help while also increasing the chances of the offender being caught. 

If you decide to report your incident to the police, they’ll not only take a statement from you and start an investigation but can also refer you to specialist medical care services if you need treatment. They are able to put you in touch with the right people for ongoing emotional support, too. 

If you need help or medical care as an emergency, call 999 or make your way to the accident and emergency unit at your nearest hospital. Otherwise, call 101. 

Your university

Each university has its own procedure for dealing with sexual harassment and abuse, and the route you go down with them might depend on the circumstances. 

During office hours, you should be able to get in touch with a university advisor who is trained to deal with reports of assault. They might be called a wellbeing advisor or sexual assault liaison officer or something similar. Have a look on your university’s website to locate the right contact. They’ll be able to offer you short and long-term support and make any necessary arrangements for you.

If you need to talk to someone out of hours, get in touch with security – either for the campus or your halls of residence. They will be able to contact the right team or staff member for you.

Your university will be able to offer you practical guidance as well as counselling from fully trained professionals, should you want it. Whatever you need, rest assured your university will have the resources and dedicated teams to help you. 

A helpline

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than to someone you know or a person of authority. If that’s how you feel, then consider calling a helpline – there are many out there dedicated to offering confidential advice and support to victims of sexual harassment or assault. The incident does not need to be recent for you to contact these teams, nor do you have to be identified if you’d rather stay anonymous. 

Not only can these helplines offer emotional support, but they can also talk you through your options and make referrals for you, for instance, if you are concerned about STIs or are injured. Many offer web chat services as well as phone lines. 

Here is a list of some of the services you can contact:

  • Rape Crisis: call 0808 802 9999 or visit the website to chat online
  • Victim Support: call 0808 1689 111 or you can chat online via the website
  • The Survivor’s Trust: call on 08088 010818 – there’s also lots of useful information on its website

A friend

If the thought of talking about your experience with someone you don’t know seems too much, then think about telling a friend. There is no pressure and you needn’t do this immediately, but there could be huge emotional benefits to confiding in someone that you trust. 

You may also like to read

How to access free healthcare in the UK

How can I access mental health support?

Student mental health guide for international students