Zero Tolerance

Along with many other Students Unions throughout the country, we’re working towards being a fully accredited Zero Tolerance union.

Last academic year, Union Parliament passed a motion called Ending Sexual Harassment in our Students’ Union. The proposal was prompted partly by Hidden Marks, the first-ever nationwide study into women students’ experience of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault. Its key findings included:

  • 68% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment while at university or college
  • 16% of respondents experienced unwanted kissing, touching or molesting during their time as a student
  • The perpetrators were usually students in most categories (except physical violence)
  • Just 4% of female students who had been seriously sexually assaulted had reported it to their university. And only 10% told the police.
  • Half of those who didn't report the incident said it was because they felt embarrassed or ashamed, while 43% said they thought they would be blamed for it

Why do we need a Zero Tolerance campaign?

As well as Hidden Marks, there is other evidence that sexual harassment is increasingly prevalent. Many entries to the Everyday Sexism Project, which catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women on a day-to-day basis, refer to incidents on student campuses.

We want our Union to be a safe place for all students, where you can enjoy a night out without having to put up with sexual harassment.

This means we need to be clear what we mean by sexual harassment – and we need to act when incidents are reported.

The principle behind the Zero Tolerance Campaign is simple. 

We're asking you to stand up and say that sexual harassment is not tolerated in our union, or at our union events.

We know that’s not always easy.

A recent study by the University of York's Students' Union found that students were unlikely to report incidents. One respondent said: "It was my own fault for being drunk and I paid the price."

Our Executive Officers have been working hard to improve procedures so that it’s easier to report incidents and that complaints are dealt with more effectively. They are also strengthening links with the police and supportive agencies that can help.

What is sexual harassment?

Defining sexual harassment can be problematic. First, there’s no handy, legal definition. That doesn’t mean, however, that sexual harassment is legal. It just means that there are separate laws covering different aspects of sexual harassment.

Second, different people are comfortable with different levels of contact. What might be acceptable – or “just banter” - to you can be offensive and upsetting to others.

For the purposes of the Hidden Marks report, the NUS drew up a definition of sexual harassment, using meanings used by a range of parties. This has been accepted by experts to be an appropriate definition and includes, but is not limited to, the following behaviour

  •     Sexual comments that make you feel uncomfortable (including verbally, over the Internet or via text message)
  •     Wolf whistling, catcalling or making sexual noises
  •     Questions about your sex or romantic life when it’s clearly none of the questioner's business
  •     Someone exposing their sexual organs to you when you didn’t agree
  •     Groping, pinching or smacking your body, such as your bottom or breasts, when you didn’t agree
  •     Someone lifting up your skirt or top in public without your consent

In short, behaviour that degrades, humiliates or frightens you is unacceptable.

The University also recently issued a statement that it will take action on inappropriate comments posted on Facebook sites in line with the Senate Regulations Governing Student Discipline.

Only females get harassed, right?

Wrong! Latest research indicates that males are more likely to be the perpetrators, but we know that men, too, endure behaviours that constitute sexual harassment.

Our Zero Tolerance policy protects all students, regardless of sex, gender or sexuality.

What should I do if I feel harassed?

Report it. No matter how trivial you might think it is, tell someone. If we don’t know about it, we can’t act.

If something happens while you are in one of the Union venues, speak to the staff or duty manager. Depending on the severity of the incident, the perpetrator may be asked to leave the event .