On this page, you will find information about reporting sexual misconduct at university. This page highlights those things which reporting students might expect when reporting to their university.
What does reporting mean?
Reporting means going through an official, standardised route (i.e. the university system or the police) and reporting what happened to you this way, this can include complaints. You may be able to do this anonymously if you prefer. If this is not done anonymously, formal reporting will often result in a disciplinary process, such as an investigation.
Disclosing your experience of sexual misconduct means telling someone what happened to you. This is informal (i.e. you have not gone through formal routes – university procedures, police) and can include anonymous disclosures. Disclosures do not automatically lead to an investigation or disciplinary processes.
Students do not need to formally report an experience of sexual misconduct to be entitled to support.
It’s important to remember that reporting processes will vary across institutions, and you should refer to your university’s policy and processes for detailed information about the processes at your institution. The following information are those things which reporting students might expect from their institution.
Staff should refer to the relevant university or employment policy, such as their contracts, for information on how to report experiences of sexual misconduct to their employer.
Rights of Women provide free employment legal advice to women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work.
What should students expect?
Guidance from The Office for Students (OfS), the regulatory body for universities in England, has published expectations that universities should be aiming to adhere to.
Expectation number five states that:
“Higher education providers should have adequate and effective policies and processes in place for all students to report and disclose incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.”
According to this expectation, universities should:
Provide easy to understand information to all staff and students on how they can report, disclose, or access support if they have experienced (or witnessed) sexual misconduct.
Clearly communicate (e.g. this information should be easily accessible and clear to understand) processes for reporting, such as how the universities will receive and respond to reports, including anonymous reports. This could be included in student handbooks, on the university website and social media, for example.
Provide support for students who have experienced sexual misconduct regardless of whether a formal complaint has been made. This should include signposting and referrals to specialist services for sexual misconduct. Examples of these can be found here.
Understand and minimise the barriers to reporting and disclosing experiences of sexual misconduct, including those that may exist for particular groups of students.
Although not mandated, universities are expected to show the change they have made in response to the OfS expectations, particularly if they have not met the expectations.
Other Higher Education sector guidance makes further recommendations:
Universities UK & Pinsent Masons (2016) sector guidance for UK universities stresses that: no pressure should be put on the reporting student by the university to take any particular course of action.
- Universities should ensure that students are provided with all relevant information and support, and assist the reporting student in understanding the various options available to them.
- Staff members providing this information and support should be properly trained in sexual misconduct disclosures, university reporting and investigation processes.
It should be made clear that students do not have to report to the police even if their experience constitutes a criminal offence, and that they are entitled to an internal investigation by the university.
Research from The 1752 Group and McAllister Olivarius (2021) suggest that universities should:
Ensure that there is no time limit placed on students to make a report of sexual misconduct. There should be no time limit in which a complaint can be made. It can take a long time, months and years, for somebody to realise that an experience they had was sexual misconduct and caused them harm.
Act on and centrally record all sexual misconduct complaints, regardless of whether a formal complaint has been made. By ‘act on’, this means that precautionary measures can still be taken to protect students after a disclosure has been made (such as changing timetables to keep two students apart, for example). With the students permission, disclosures should be recorded in a central register in line with data protection obligations.
For more information on reporting sexual misconduct at university, see research from the NUS and The 1752 Group.