Healthy lives for young people
Abuse

Sexual harassment and assault

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 anywhere, such as at school, on the bus or at work and can be a ‘one-off’ or repeated behaviour. Common forms of sexual harassment include:

  • someone making sexual comments, jokes or gestures, including including jokes about sexuality
  • spreading sexual rumours about you
  • staring or leering at your body
  • calling you names such as “slut” and “whore”
  • sending unwanted sexual emails, DMs or text messages
  • offering rewards in return for sexual favours
  • showing sexual photos or videos at school or work
  • lifting up your skirt or top, or pulling down your trousers
  • someone exposing private parts of their body or masturbating in front of you without your consent
  • pressuring you to do sexual things that you don’t want to do
  • unwanted touching or physical contact without your consent

Some of these can also be types of sexual assault.

You may hear lots of different terms around the topic of sexual harassment. Harassment can cover lots of different behaviours, but if harassment is becomes physical, forceful, or develops into threats then it can be classed as sexual violence, assault or abuse.

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.

Who can sexual harassment happen to?

Sexual harassment 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.

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.

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.

Dealing with sexual harassment

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 make note of when and where the sexual harassment happens, and if possible get details of any witnesses. If you are receiving unwanted letters, emails or texts; keep a record of them.

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.

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.

Support others

If you’ve noticed it’s happening to another person, try to check that person is okay and offer support in dealing with it. You could help them think about who to speak to next.

You can also report a crime on someone else’s behalf, the police will keep a record of the incident and can help you support the person if needed.

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.

The Everyday Sexism Project has a great list of support organisations.

The below organisations may also be able help:

Victim support

Free and confidential support to help you move beyond crime.

The Mix

Free, confidential help for under 25s via online, social and mobile.

Galop

Specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity providing advice, support and advocacy.

Citizens Advice

Explains what kinds of behaviour count as sexual harassment and the action you can take about it.

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