Supporting students who report sexual harassment or assault

Guidelines for staff: What to do if a student tells you they have been sexually harassed or assaulted.

The University will not tolerate sexual abuse within its community. The University is committed to supporting any students who experience sexual abuse and to taking the appropriate action regarding those who commit it.

Sexual abuse may take many forms. In addition to rape and sexual assault, it includes sexual harassment, i.e. any sexualised behaviour that is humiliating, intimidating or hostile and may include actions like derogatory name calling, belittling remarks, insults, threats, unwanted personal attention. And of course anyone can be subjected to sexual harassment regardless of their sexuality, gender, race, religion, or disability.

Support for students who have experienced sexual abuse is a specialist matter and it is not expected that non-specialist staff provide this sort of support. However a student who has experienced sexual abuse or harassment may decide to disclose it to any member of staff. In the event that this happens, we want to ensure that all staff have the knowledge, skills and awareness to be able to handle disclosures or reports of sexual violence safely.

We are therefore asking staff - particularly those who have regular contact with students - to take the time to complete our Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence training course, which provides high-quality, interactive and comprehensive training on the first response to disclosures:

Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence training course (EASE login required)

Although we encourage all staff to complete this training course, we have also created some brief guidance below to assist staff who may need to have such a conversation and refer the student on for more specialist support elsewhere. A similar set of guidelines have also been produced for students and is attached as an appendix.

1. Is the student safe?

If the student is in physical danger or in need of immediate medical attention, call the emergency services on 999.

2. Immediate support

The most important message to get across to the student in any conversation is that the University is committed to supporting any students who have experienced sexual abuse and to taking the appropriate action regarding anyone who has committed it. Listening sympathetically and non-judgementally to the student’s concerns is the first step in this process.

3. Being accompanied

A student wishing to report sexual abuse may well wish to be accompanied by a friend or supporter. Equally, it is useful for there to be more than one member of staff (in addition to yourself) present during any conversation for the purposes of evidence gathering (should the matter ultimately end up in the criminal courts).  The student may not welcome this, but you should suggest to the student that another member of staff is present during the discussion - if the student is comfortable with that. 

4. Referral

For any form of sexual abuse, the Students' Association is the best place to provide professional frontline support and you should encourage the student to make contact with the Advice Place as soon as possible. The Advice Place can advise the student on what action they can take, including taking action against the alleged perpetrator or using the University or EUSA complaints procedures or referring them to other support agencies such as Rape Crisis Scotland. The Advice Place can also facilitate “Third Party Police Reporting”, i.e. they can help the student report their experience to the police, or Advice Place staff can report it for the student, without them needing to be in contact with the police at the initial stage. Finally, the Advice Place can help the student change accommodation if needed.

Students do not need an appointment to access the Advice Place. Offices are in Potterrow (central) or at Kings Buildings, or you can call them on 0131 650 9225 / 0800 206 2341 (freephone) or text them on 07537 402004 or email them on the address below: 

Potterrow Office   

5/2 Bristo Square   


EH8 9AL        

King’s Buildings House Office,

University of Edinburgh King's Buildings



If the student has experienced sexual violence but does not wish to access the Advice Place, you should highlight the services of Rape Crisis Scotland:

Rape Crisis Scotland - know the facts

They provide a national rape crisis helpline on 08088 01 03 02 and also offer email support for anyone affected by sexual violence, women and men, no matter when or how it happened. The helpline is open from 6pm to midnight, 7 days a week, and offers free and confidential initial and crisis support and information.

The Edinburgh Womens’ Rape Crisis Centre is at 17 Claremont Crescent, Edinburgh EH7 4HX, Tel: 0131 557 6737.  Click on the link below for more information: 

Edinburgh women's rape and sexual abuse centre

SurvivorsUK provide a national helpline for men who have experienced sexual abuse and offer support through chatservices/webchat/sms. Click on the link below for more information:

SurvivorsUK: male rape and sexual abuse

Students who have experienced rape or sexual assault may also need to receive:

  • Medical support for injuries or infections. Medical assistance will be available from the student’s GP, from their local hospital or from the NHS Lothian Sexual Health Clinic (see link below) Medical practitioners will adhere to strict patient confidentiality guidelines.

Lothian Sexual Health

  • Support for the emotional distress caused. Counselling is available from the Student Counselling Service via the link below (or tel. 0131 650 4170).

Student Counselling

The student may wish to know how to report harassment or assault by a member of the University community so that it is investigated under the University’s own procedures. While the Advice Place (see above) is best placed to provide support with this aspect, it may be useful to note that a student who wishes to report an instance of sexual harassment or assault, whether by a fellow student or by a member of staff, should use the University Complaint Handling Procedure (see link below):

University Secretary's Group - Complaint handling procedure

For further advice about the Complaint Handling Procedure, email the address below:

5. Record keeping

Following the meeting, you should send an e-mail to the student reminding them what was discussed, any instructions/support given (e.g. EUSA Advice Place or other specialist support agency referral) and any decision taken or follow up required. You should send the e-mail to the student’s University email address only (for security reasons) and double-check the email address is correct before sending. You should also keep a copy of the e-mail in a secure location in case you need to refer to it in the future.

6. What about confidentiality?

The student may ask that you keep anything they tell you confidential. You need to be aware that:

  • Complete and permanent confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, as in the event of a criminal investigation, you may be required to give evidence about the conversation you are having.
  • Under the University’s Dignity & Respect Policy, you are expected to raise serious concerns with the relevant member of University staff. In the case of rape or sexual assault, you should report the details to the University Secretary’s Office as soon as possible. (You do not need the student’s permission to disclose this information to relevant individuals elsewhere in the University, although it is good practice to let the student know that you will do so.)
  • If the student wishes the University to take action by submitting a complaint, the University will need to disclose the student’s identity to the alleged perpetrator. 
  • The University will not normally report an allegation of sexual assault to the Police without the student's permission. However in the event that the alleged perpetrator of the assault is still at large and represents a continued threat to other members of the University community, it may be necessary for the University to breach confidentiality and report the assault to the Police. Any such decision would be taken by the University Secretary following discussion with the student and/or legal advice.

7. Reporting

As per the above, any case of sexual assault that is brought to your attention should be reported to the University Secretary.

The University Secretary can be contacted via the email address below ; by phone 0131 650 2143 or at Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH8 9YL

8. Support for you

The Staff Counselling Service provides a confidential service of further support and counselling for yourself if needed. Staff counselling contact details can be seen below:

tel: 0131 650 2513

 You may also wish to speak to a senior colleague.

Appendix A - Copy of Student Guidelines

The online guidance for students can be seen via the link below:

Guidelines for students: What to do if you have been sexually harassed or assaulted