Sexual misconduct

Advice and guidance for students at Scottish campuses

Being raped or sexually assaulted is a very distressing experience with effects that can be long lasting.

Because the majority of rapes are reported to be against women this information is written from the woman's perspective. However it is acknowledged that male rape exists and the University will offer support to all casualties of rape. Therefore throughout this page advice and suggestions are relevant to either gender. If you are a victim of sexual violence there is guidance further down this page on how to access support.

The University is committed to providing a safe environment that allows you to work, study, and fulfil your potential without fear of sexual misconduct.

Sexual Misconduct covers a broad range of inappropriate, unwanted, behaviour. From the most severe forms of sexual violence including rape and sexual assault, it also extends to unwanted touching, stalking, abusive or degrading remarks (including those on social media) and across a range of inappropriate behaviour in between. It is not possible to detail all the behaviours but the common thread is the disregard of informed consent.

Sexual consent means a person willingly agrees to have sex or engage in a sexual activity. In Scotland, this is known as "free consent". To give consent, the person must be able to make their own decisions. A person who is incapacitated through alcohol or drugs, or who is asleep or unconscious, cannot give consent to sexual activity. Agreeing to engage in one form of sexual activity e.g. kissing does not mean that a person has given consent to all forms of sexual activity. Just because a person has given consent to sexual activity once does not mean that he or she has given consent for that type of activity in the future. Making sure you get and give consent before having any kind of sex with another person (or people) really matters: sex without consent is rape or sexual assault.

If you, or another student has experienced any form of sexual misconduct against them please contact Student Wellbeing or the Student Advice Hub for help and advice.

Further support and information can be found at:

Support if someone shares your intimate picture without permission

New legislation (Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act) makes it an offence to 'disclose, or threaten to disclose, an intimate photograph or film' without consent. This is sometimes called 'revenge porn'. It comes in response to a growing problem as easy access to devices like smart phones means pictures and videos taken with the expectation of privacy can be shared far more easily online . You can tell the police if someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image of you without your consent. Intimate images can be pictures or videos of you doing something normally done in private. You may have agreed to the pictures being taken, but you didn't agree to them being shared with others. An intimate image could show:

  • you taking part in a sexual act
  • your genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed in a private place (for example, at home)
  • you wearing only your underwear in a private place (for example, at home)
If you have been affected by sexual violence or misconduct

We know it can be incredibly difficult to disclose if you have been raped, sexually assaulted, harassed or abused. We understand there are many barriers and that you will be experiencing difficult feelings, some of which may be worries about how you will be treated if you do make a disclosure. This is a distressing time for you, and it is of the utmost importance to us that we don't make it any more difficult. We encourage you to come forward safe in the knowledge that you will be respected and supported.

People who have experienced rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment can be affected in many ways and are likely to experience a range of upsetting and painful feelings. The effects can be very varied, and include anger, distress, numbness, crying, insomnia, flashbacks, inability to concentrate, and withdrawal from friends and family. All of these reactions are completely normal, and it is ok to feel like this.

By contacting Student Wellbeing, you can talk to a Counsellor or Student Adviser who will listen to how you are feeling without judging you in any way. Our staff are there whether you want to make a formal report to the University or the Police, if you want to find out about specialist support available to you, or whether you just want someone to listen.

Looking after your safety

The University takes very seriously its responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all students and staff. If your physical safety is in danger or if you are in need of immediate medical attention on Edinburgh or Scottish Borders Campuses call Security on 3500. For Orkney Campus call the emergency services on 999.

Following a risk assessment, the University may request that the alleged perpetrator has no contact with you, both in person and on social media and may take further protective considerations, e.g. arranging alternative accommodation, considering attendance at common lecture and tutorials.

We would ask you not to engage with the perpetrator of the sexual misconduct in any way or to post any messages about the incident or other third parties on social media. If you are being contacted or harassed by phone or email, contact Student Wellbeing. Keep a record of any abusive messages you do receive, so they can be passed on to the University authorities or the Police if you have chosen to involve them.

Remember that where reports of sexual misconduct are received, our Risk Assessment will be undertaken to ensure the safety and protection of all parties. Your protection is critical.

What the University will do

What you can expect from us

  • We will take you seriously
  • We will respect your feelings and decisions
  • We will actively ensure you have access to the best specialist support
  • We will take all reasonable action relative to your physical safety which might include reviewing accommodation arrangements, adjusting academic timetables, or ensuring safe transport
  • We will not force you to involve the Police: that is your choice
  • We will support you to report the incident to the Police, if that is what you choose to do

What the University will do

  • We will not usually report the incident/s to the Police without your permission, but we hold the right to do so where there is reasonably believed to be a risk to others or where other evidence suggests that it is the right course of action
  • We can, however, facilitate you contacting the Police and support you through the process should you wish to.
Looking after your physical health and emotional wellbeing

Looking after your physical health

If you have recently experienced sexual violence you may have injuries which need medical attention. These injuries may be internal or external. There may also be a risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Medical assistance is available from your GP, or local hospital.

Medical professionals will not normally make a report to Police without your permission, however do remember that whatever you tell them can be noted and may be used in any future Police investigation as evidence. Nevertheless, in order to receive the best treatment, you should provide full details of what happened.

Supporting your emotional wellbeing

Traumatic experiences can cause significant emotional distress which can endure if not addressed.

Student Wellbeing offer a confidential, professional service, ensuring that you receive individual and high quality support. We will:

  • Listen
  • Help you access useful resources
  • Inform you of your options
  • Signpost you to NHS services or other appropriate services including Rape Crisis
  • Offer assistance in negotiating mitigating circumstances and flexibility of deadlines where appropriate and necessary
Reporting to the Police

If you have experience of sexual misconduct against you which could reasonably be described as criminal, whether recently or in the past, you may want to consider reporting what has happened to you to the Police. Although we shall ensure you have access to unbiased information on options, it is crucially important that this is your decision. None of the help you will be offered from Student Wellbeing is conditional on you making a Police report.

However you must be aware that any information which you supply to anybody except your individual legal representative can be sought out and used by the Police in evidence at a later date and so complete confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

All Police forces in Scotland have Police officers (Sexual Offences Liaison Officers – SOLO officers) who are specially trained in responding to sexual offences and who will listen to you with sensitivity.

If you are thinking of reporting to the Police it may help you to know:

  • Your report will be taken seriously and you will be treated professionally and with sensitivity. You may ask to be interviewed by a female or a male officer.
  • As forensic evidence can be easily lost it is important to report as soon as possible or to protect your evidence from any time delay. This can mean that you might put clothes you were wearing into a plastic bag, left unsealed, and try to avoid taking food and/or drink.
  • However, even if some time has passed or it happened a long time ago, it is still worth speaking to the Police and some forensic evidence can be detected for a substantial period of time. A lack of forensic evidence does not necessarily mean ‘no case'.
  • It can take a number of hours to give a statement to the Police but you can ask for this to be taken in a place where you feel comfortable. Student Wellbeing can be used if you would like to sit in a neutral space.
  • After the statement is noted you may be asked if you are willing to have a medical examination. This would be carried out by a forensic medical examiner. It can be helpful to ask someone you trust to accompany you.
  • If the assault has just happened, it is a good idea to take a change of clothes and shoes to the Police Station as the items you are wearing may be required as evidence. If you change your clothing following an attack; take the clothes you were wearing at the time with you in an open plastic bag as forensic evidence may still be gathered.
  • For International Students and those who are unfamiliar with Scots Law, it is important that you understand the implications of filing a Police report in Scotland. In this country the decision as to whether or not to proceed with the investigation lies with the Procurator Fiscal and not with you. It may still go ahead even if you wish to withdraw your statement at a later date. Therefore it is important that you are sure that you want to file a report before you proceed.
  • If you are considering reporting what has happened to you to the Police and want further information or to talk the decision through with someone, you can contact Student Wellbeing . You may also wish to speak to a specialist organisation such as Rape Crisis
  • If you decide to contact the Police without first contacting Student Wellbeing call the Police non-emergency number (101) or, if urgent, dial 999 and state that this is in relation to a sexual assault. Ask for one of their specially trained officers. If you would prefer to initially speak to a Police Officer somewhere other than your place of residence, ask for this when you call.
What to do if you have been accused of sexual misconduct

Being accused of sexual misconduct can be a traumatic experience for anyone. The University's Duty of Care extends to both alleged victims and alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct. It is important to know that the list of possible actions below is not an exhaustive one.

Your support

  • It can help to speak to a trusted person or confidant, but be aware that anything you say to anybody at this time may be called forward as evidence by the Crown authorities and therefore confidentiality is really only guaranteed with a personal representing lawyer.
  • If you wish help in gaining independent legal advice, contact the Student Union Advice Hub
  • You can access free individual Counselling through Student Wellbeing to help deal with feelings related to being accused, decision-making, and concerns about relationships.
  • The Students' Union Advice Hub can provide free independent advice and support to students whenever they have a problem in the University. Once again, however, you should be aware that with regard to any information which you choose to volunteer, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed as the Crown authorities could require this to be produced at a later date.
  • You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity by university staff.

Important points to know

  • Do not contact the alleged victim by any means: this might appear retaliatory, even if that is not your intent. In addition, the alleged victim might believe this to be an additional act of harassment, which could give rise to other complaints being raised against you.
  • You are discouraged from posting updates or comments relating to the case on social media; your social media history may be investigated and used in the case against you.
  • Consider whether there is information to gather that might be helpful. For example, you might gather text messages, emails, Facebook postings, or other social media postings. If you have already deleted text messages, contact your phone provider to find out if they can be recovered. If you think of possible witnesses, it might be helpful to write down their names so that you do not forget them later, when asked as part of any investigation that may take place.
  • If the allegation reaches the Risk Assessment or even the Disciplinary stage note that you will have clear rights to be accompanied to meetings
  • The University may undertake a Risk Assessment. This is not a disciplinary process, but is intended to use reasonable attempts to ensure the wellbeing of all those involved and also the wider community. The Risk Assessment does not imply any judgement on the accusation levied against you. There are numerous outcomes of this Risk Assessment open to the discretion of the University staff conducting the assessment. These could range from a move in location for teaching and/or living purposes up to and including temporary suspension from the University.
  • Depending on the nature of the allegations, the University may also carry out Disciplinary proceedings, but these are separate from the process of Risk Assessment and will usually take place at a separate time. If the Police are investigating an incident, then the University will not carry out Disciplinary proceedings whilst that investigation as ongoing, in order to preserve the integrity and primacy of that Police investigation. Following conclusion of the Police or any subsequent Court action, however, the University may wish to determine whether any breaches of our discipline code can be identified to have taken place.