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Sexual harassment

If you have experienced sexual harassment or assault, it is not your fault and you are not alone. 

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted sexual behaviour.

It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality; and could be from someone of the same or different sex. However it happens, it is never your fault and there are lots of ways to get support.

Is sexual harassment always a ‘one-off’?

It can be a one-off or repeated behaviour. It can happen anywhere, such as at school, on the bus or at work.

It might also be linked to other forms of harassment including homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, racism, ableism, or religious discrimination. More about LGBT+ abuse and violence

What are some common forms of sexual harassment?

Sexual comments, names and jokes
  • Making sexual comments, jokes or gestures, including jokes about their sexuality
  • Calling someone names such as “slut” and “whore”
  • Sending unwanted sexual emails, DMs or text messages
  • Spreading sexual rumours about someone
  • Showing sexual photos or videos at school or work
Unwanted sexual attention and contact
  • Staring or leering at someone’s body
  • Someone exposing private parts of their body or masturbating in front of someone without their consent
  • Unwanted touching or physical contact without someone’s consent
  • Pressuring someone to do sexual things that they don’t want to do
  • Offering rewards in return for sexual favours

In a report on street harassment (2018) Plan UK reported that 66% of girls in the UK have experienced sexual attention or sexual or physical contact in a public place, and 38% experience verbal harassment, like catcalling, wolf-whistling and sexual comments at least once a month.

Cyberflashing (sending nudes without consent)

Cyberflashing is sending someone sexual or explicit images or videos (nudes) without their consent.

Receiving an unwanted explicit image can be shocking and you may not know how to react. It may make you feel angry, intimidated or upset. If this has happened to you, block the sender, speak to someone you trust and seek support. You can also report it to the platform where it happened (dating site, social media etc).

More about cyberflashing

It is also sexual harassment if someone pressures you to send nude images or photos.

Sending naked images of, or to, people under 18 is illegal. If this has happened to you, speak with a trusted adult or an organisation like Brook, or Childline on their website or by calling 0800 1111.

Intimate image abuse (“Revenge Porn”)

Intimate image abuse is when someone shares private, sexual or explicit videos or photos of another person without their consent.

It is illegal in England and Wales.

It can happen on social media, through texting or email or by showing someone a physical or electronic image. Whether it’s sent to a friend, a work colleague, a family member or a stranger it is never okay to share private, sexual materials that aren’t yours, without permission.

This term is only appropriate for people aged 18 or over. If you are under 18 this type of content is classed as child abuse imagery.

Get help

If someone has shared an image/video online, there are organisations that can support you and can help remove the images. You won’t be blamed and you won’t get in trouble. Report it to Childline

If you are 18 or over and have been affected by this, you can call the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459. If you are under 18, call ChildLine on 0800 1111 and/or visit the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) website.


Upskirting is taking a photo under someone’s clothing without their consent. It is now a criminal offence in England and Wales regardless of whether it was done for sexual gratification or to humiliate or embarrass the person.

Anyone can be a victim of upskirting regardless of their gender and it can happen anywhere including on public transport, on the street or in school.

Where to go for support

Some of these can also be types of sexual assault.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault, abuse or violence is any act of unwanted sexual contact including rape (having sex with you without your consent), someone sexually touching you without your consent, online grooming, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation.

More about sexual assault and violence

How to tell the difference between a compliment and sexual harassment


  • Said by a friend or someone they know 
  • Said in a respectful way with nothing respected in return
  • Doesn’t sexualise the person 
  • Makes the person feel happy 
  • Said in a safe space 

Sexual Harassment

  • Shouted across the street 
  • Makes the person feel intimidated
  • Referring to body parts 
  • Comments of a sexual nature
  • Approached in a place they don’t feel safe or unable to leave 

Dealing with sexual harassment

Experiencing sexual harassment can be very upsetting. It can often cause a lot of distress and can lead to headaches, anxiety, depression, problems sleeping and eating, and loss of self-confidence. It’s important to know that if someone else’s behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable then it’s not okay, and there are ways you can get help.

If you have been sexually harassed, it is not your fault and no one should have to put up with it. We have listed a few steps below which could help you deal with it:

Ask them to stop

If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the person that you don’t like what they are doing and you want it to stop. If you don’t feel safe confronting them, speak to someone else who can help like a trusted adult or friend.

Make a note of what happens

It is a good idea to a keep a diary or make notes about the sexual harassment – when, where, and if there were any witnesses. If you are receiving unwanted letters, emails or texts; keep a record of them as these are all evidence that can help you make a complaint.

Speak to someone

If you’re experiencing harassment it’s a really good idea to speak to someone who you trust, like a family member, carer, or teacher. They will be able to help you with next steps, or assist you in finding additional support if you need it.

Sometimes it can feel embarrassing or difficult telling a person that you’re being harassed but it’s important to remember that it is never your fault and your feelings are valid. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone you know or would rather tell someone over the phone, there are organisations that you can contact, like Victim Support.

If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is harassment, speaking to someone else about it can help put things into perspective and help you to understand what you’re going through.

Report it

It is always your decision whether to report harassment. If you report to your school, college or work, they will have to follow up and investigate your report.

If you are in immediate danger, you should call the police on 999.

If you are being sexually harassed at work or by your landlord you are protected by the Equality Act 2010 which categorises sexual harassment under unlawful discrimination. This also includes if you are being treated badly due to your reaction to the harassment. Follow the links below for further help and support:

You may feel that what you’ve experienced isn’t ‘serious’ enough to report. But if someone has made you feel uncomfortable that is not okay and it is always best to report it. You will be able to get support and advice on what to do next.

If you have been sexually assaulted (which may include being emotionally manipulated or physically forced into performing a sexual act without your consent), you can report this to the police by dialling 999, 101, or visiting your local police station. It is always your choice whether to report something. If you need support, you can contact organisations like Rape Crisis.

How to support others

Even if sexual harassment isn’t happening to you, you can still help others who are experiencing it. When people do nothing it sends the message that their behaviour is acceptable.

It’s especially important to call out sexual harassment among friends as they are more likely to listen and care about what their friends think of them.

If you do witness sexual harassment, for example one of your friends is making sexual comments or “jokes” to someone else, here’s some things you could do to to help:

  • Check the person is okay – This lets the person know that you’ve witnessed it and think this behaviour isn’t acceptable
  • Speak up – A simple and calm “that’s not cool/funny/okay” can go a long way in changing people’s attitudes to sexual harassment.
  • Interrupt– If you don’t feel in a position to tell the person that what they are doing is wrong, distracting them, for example asking them a question or starting a conversation, can help stop the harassment at that time.
  • Help the person to find support – Use the information on this page to help support the person being harassed, whether that’s providing your name so they have the name of a witness, or signposting to organisations that can help.
  • Tell a trusted adult – If you let a trusted adult know, for example a teacher or parent, about what you witnessed they will look into it further to make sure it doesn’t happen again and the person it happened to gets the support they need.
  • Report a crime – You can also report a crime on someone’s behalf – the police will keep a record of the incident and can help you support the person if needed.

Never put yourself in danger, if you feel unsafe walk away and act later whether that’s reporting the harassment or asking the person if they are okay.

Find out more about sexual harassment and how to support others on the Government’s Enough campaign website

Get help and support

If you’re affected by harassment or assault remember you are not alone and there are lots of organisations that can support you.

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