What is sexual assault? 

Sexual assault happens when someone touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. Or when someone makes another person take part in a sexual activity with them without that person's consent. It includes unwanted kissing and sexual touching.
Sexual assault refers to many different forms of sexual violence – the phrase we use to describe any sexual activity or act that happened without consent. However, at university we call it sexual misconduct as we are not able to criminally prosecute. 
Any sexual assault is a serious crime that can have a lasting impact on the victim or survivor. No-one ever deserves or asks for it to happen. 100% of the blame lies with the perpetrator or perpetrators.
The legal definition of sexual assault in England and Wales is when someone intentionally touches another person in a sexual manner, without that person’s consent.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone commits sexual assault if all of the following happens:
  • They intentionally touch another person.
  • The touching is sexual.
  • The other person does not consent to the touching.
  • They do not reasonably believe that the other person consents.
  • The touching can be with any part of the body or with anything else.
It could include:
  • Kissing.
  • Attempted rape.
  • Touching someone’s breasts or genitals – including through clothing.
  • Touching any other part of the body for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, stroking someone’s thigh or rubbing their back.
  • Pressing up against another person for sexual pleasure.
  • Pressuring, manipulating or scaring someone into performing a sexual act on the perpetrator.
  • Touching someone’s clothing if done for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, lifting up someone’s skirt.
However, please know that this is not a full list. Just because something isn’t included here doesn’t mean it isn’t sexual assault.

Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent
In English and Welsh law, it is also a crime to intentionally ‘cause’ another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent.
This could include:
  • Making someone masturbate or touch themselves sexually.
  • Making someone sexually touch or take part in sexual activity with another person – with or without that other person’s consent.
  • Making someone be sexually touched by another person or having another person carry out sexual activity with them – whether the other person is consenting or not.
As you can see, the person committing the crime of ‘causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent’ here is not touching the victim or victims themselves. But, it is a very serious offence that can carry the same sentence as sexual assault.

The tactics a perpetrator could use to ‘cause’ someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent include physical force, manipulation and threats

What is consent?
Consenting to someone touching you in a sexual manner means agreeing to it by choice and having both the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
It is NOT consent if you or someone else was:
  • Asleep, unconscious, drunk, drugged or 'on' drugs.
  • Pressured, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying yes.
  • Too young or vulnerable to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time, including during sex or a sexual act. Just because someone consented to something before doesn’t mean they consented to it happening again.
If someone’s unsure whether the other person is giving their consent for something sexual, they should always check with them.

Does sexual assault have to involve force?
It’s a really common myth about sexual assault, rape and other kinds of sexual violence and abuse that they have to involve physical force or leave the person with visible injuries. But that isn’t true.
There are many other ‘tactics’ that someone might use to sexually assault someone. For example:
  • pressure
  • manipulation
  • bullying
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • deception
  • drugs or alcohol
BUT, none of these have to have happened for it to still be sexual assault.
Many people find themselves unable to speak or move when faced with a scary, shocking or dangerous situation. If that happened, it does not mean the person gave their consent.
And if there’s no consent then it is always sexual assault.

Who commits sexual assault?
Sexual assault can be committed by a stranger or someone that the victim or survivor knows.
This could be:
  • a partner
  • an ex-partner
  • someone they were dating
  • someone they used to date
  • an acquaintance (someone they only know a little bit)
  • a friend
  • a colleague
  • a family member
It can be carried out by a person of any gender against another person of any gender.
(information taken from https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/types-of-sexual-violence/what-is-sexual-assault/)


Sex without consent is Never OK. What happened was not your fault, but you have the power to choose what happens next.

If you have been sexually assaulted, it may be hard to know what to do or how to feel. 
It is important to remember that you have the power to choose what you want to do. This can include reporting to police, reporting to UEA, not reporting, or waiting to report at a later time. Regardless of whether you decide to report or not, there is support to help you through the decisions you choose. 
  • Report to the University and get Support. Students and staff can report an incident using the University’s Report and Support system. You can choose to do this anonymously or you can request support from an adviser. If you choose to talk to an adviser they will be able to talk through the options and support available to you, in confidence. 
  • Report to The Harbour Centre. We recommend everyone who has been sexually assaulted contact the Harbour Centre, Norfolk's local independent Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). They have Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) who are trained to look after the needs of a survivor of rape or sexual violence to ensure they receive the best possible care and understanding. ISVAs are there to provide information to ensure an you can make a decision that is right for you. 
    • Free and Confidential, you choose if you want to report to the police
    • The SARC can take and keep evidence for when, or if, you want to report to the police.
    • The Harbour Centre are independent of the police, but work closely with them 
    • 24/7 helpline 01603 276381 or email contact@theharbourcentre.co.uk 
  • Reporting to the police. If you're thinking of reporting to the police, Rape Crisis have produced a useful list of things to think about. 
  • Reporting the incident anonymously to the police.  You can call crime stoppers at any point on 0800 555 111 or use their online form
  •  University Policies. If you choose to make a formal complaint to the University about a student or member of staff there are procedures which set out the steps you'll need to follow. 


  • Talk to a friend. Talking things through with someone you trust can sometimes help. 
  • Rape Crisis England and Wales. Provides further information on supporting a survivor. 
  • Sue Lambert Trust. A Norfolk based charity that provides support for survivors of sexual abuse. 
  • The Survivors Trust. A service for male survivors of sexual abuse as a child or as an adult. 
  • The National Stalking Helpline can give you information and advice on support and options available to you. 
  • Victim Support. If you report a crime to the police, they should automatically ask you if you would like help from an organisation like Victim Support. But anyone affected by crime can contact them directly – you don’t need to talk to the police to get Victim Support help. 
For Students
  • Student Life Adviser. An adviser can talk through the University's procedures, how to make a complaint and what support is available, in confidence. 
  • Residential Life Team. Whether it is your neighbourhood Student Services Resident (SSR) or the Duty SSR, if you are living in UEA residences there is someone to talk to.   
  • The uea(su) Advice Service is a free, confidential service. Advisers can support students who have been named in a disciplinary report for breach of the General Regulations for Students, and can talk through the procedure, what options are available and help you complain if you are unhappy with the process.
  • Exceptional circumstances. If you feel your studies have been affected by what has happened you can consider applying for exceptional circumstances.

For Staff
  • Human Resource Adviser. An adviser can talk through the options available whether the incident involved another staff member at UEA, a student, or a visitor to campus. 
  • Health Assured - Employee Assistance Programme. This free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year service is available to all UEA staff. The programme offers confidential support independent from UEA, with professional consultation, counselling, information, resources and referrals to services in your local area.

Find out what other support is available

Immediate help 

  • Are you in immediate danger? If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured call 999 (or 112 from a mobile). 
  • Find a safe space. If an incident has just happened, try and find somewhere you feel safe. 
  • Safe Taxi Scheme. This scheme has been set up so that you can get home safely if you don't have any cash, you can pay the fare the next day. 
  • On campus. If you are at the University you can call University Security on 01603 592222 for emergencies (01603 592352 for non-emergencies). 
  • If you are in UEA Accommodation? call your Duty Student Services Resident (SSR) who can respond from 6pm to 7am during weekdays and over the entire weekend. 

Helping Others 

Are worried about someone else who has been sexually assaulted? 
If you think someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are lots of ways in which you can help them. 

If someone has been sexually assaulted their reactions can vary; they may be afraid, angry or have no outward reaction at all.  They might even act in ways that seem unusual to you, even laughing at seemingly inappropriate times. 

Disclosures can come in many forms; it could be something said jokingly, a story that someone starts to tell then stops and says it doesn't matter, or it could be a question.  You are not expected to be a professional counsellor; however how someone responds to a first disclosure can be really important. It can take time for a person to decide what they want to do and how they want to move forward.  

  • Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The most important thing is to respond in a way that maximises their choice and control over what happens next. You can simply ask them what they need or want. They might not make the same decision you would; however, only they can decide what is best for them.  You can help them explore options, but avoid telling them what they should do. 
Talk & Listen 
  • Listen. Just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help. These six active listening tips might help you support them. Published on Oct 4, 2015 Based on the Samaritans guidelines for active listening. 
  • Give options. When they have finished talking ask them if they are ok to talk through some possible options and next steps. Remember, it is important that they decide what they want to do. 
  • They might not want to report the assault to the police or the University.  There are many reasons why someone may choose not to report sexual violence. 
  • In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the victim. 
  • They might be concerned that people won’t believe them or may not identify what occurred as a sexual assault 
  • They may be concerned who else might be informed. 
  • They may have fear of or confusion about the criminal justice system or what happens if you report it to the University. 
  • If drugs or alcohol were involved, they may choose not to report because they are worried they will get in trouble as well. 
  • It is up to them to decide what they want to disclose and to whom.  Your support can help them talk through their concerns. 
  • Let them know that you believe them and support their decisions. 
  • Remind them that no one, regardless of relationship or status, has the right to hurt them and that no matter what, it is not their fault that this occurred. 
  • Connect them with resources that can help them understand what happens if you report to the police and or the University. 
Things to avoid 
  • Just saying "it’s not your fault" (without listening to the survivor's story) 
  • Using key ‘catch phrases’ or common sayings – e.g. “it will all be better with time" 
  • Probing for details. Let them tell you what has happened in their own time 
  • Blaming them – e.g. “what were you wearing?” and “were you drinking?” or  “did you text him to come over?” 
  • Showing disgust or shock 
  • Smirking and showing obvious disbelief 
  • "Why didn’t you say straight away? Why are you only coming forward now?" 
  • Trivialising the experience – “it was only a bit of fumbling” 
Find out more
You can find more information and advice on the I'm worried about someone else page. 

There are two ways you can tell us what happened