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Knowledge Base » Safeguarding » Harassment

All about Harassment

Harassment is a complex and multifaceted issue, and there have been several studies conducted in the UK to better understand its prevalence and impact. There are many different types of harassment, which we’ll be detailing further in this article.

To highlight the problem, here are some key statistics on this topic:

  • According to a 2018 survey by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), 52% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, ranging from unwanted touching to sexual assault. 80% of these women did not report it to their employer.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission found in a 2019 study that 71% of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people reported experiencing racial harassment in the past year, with 76% of respondents who experienced racial harassment believing that it was due to their ethnicity.
  • A 2017 Stonewall study found that 68% of LGBTQ+ people in the UK had experienced verbal harassment or insults, with 1 in 10 experiencing physical violence. The study also found that trans people experienced particularly high levels of harassment and violence.
  • A 2018 report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee found that workplace harassment is widespread and often goes unreported, with only 11% of those who experienced harassment reporting it to their employer.

As you can see, the statistics and studies highlight the pervasive nature of harassment in the UK and an urgent need for stronger measures to prevent and address it.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

What is harassment?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines harassment as “aggressive pressure or intimidation, especially that which is directed at a particular person or group of people, typically involving the use of persistent insults, threats, or demands.”

To clarify, harassment can be broadly defined as behaviour that is unwanted and unwelcome. It creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the person who is experiencing it. Harassment can take many different forms, including verbal, physical and online.

Here are some examples of behaviours that could be considered as harassment:

  • Making unwelcome comments about a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
  • Making unwanted sexual advances or comments.
  • Stalking or following someone.
  • Threatening or intimidating someone.
  • Spreading rumours or gossip about someone.
  • Bullying or belittling someone.
  • Sending unwanted or threatening messages online or via social media.

It’s important to note, however, that what constitutes harassment can vary depending on the context and the individuals involved. If someone feels that they are being harassed, it’s important to take their concerns seriously and to try to address the situation in a way that is safe and respectful for all parties involved.

Types of harassment

Harassment can take many different forms and it can occur in a variety of settings.

Here are some of the most common types of harassment, which we’ll go into further detail about:

  • Domestic violence
  • Workplace harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Civil/criminal harassment
  • Cyber harassment

Domestic violence

This type of harassment occurs when a person is subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse by a partner or family member.

Domestic violence can take many different forms, including physical assault, verbal abuse, stalking, financial abuse and sexual assault. It is a serious issue that affects millions of people around the world. It’s important to note that while in most cases the perpetrator is male and the victim is female, it can occur the other way too.

Workplace harassment

Workplace harassment occurs when a person is subjected to unwanted behaviour in the workplace that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. This can include sexual harassment, racial harassment, bullying, and other types of mistreatment.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a type of harassment that specifically involves unwanted sexual advances, comments or behaviour. This can include everything from inappropriate touching to making sexual jokes or comments. Sexual harassment can occur in any setting, but it is particularly common in the workplace.

Civil/Criminal harassment

Civil and criminal harassment involve unwanted behaviour that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment outside of the workplace. Civil harassment often involves behaviour such as stalking, while criminal harassment can include threats, intimidation and physical violence.

Cyber harassment

Cyber harassment, also known as online harassment, involves using technology like social media, email or text messages to harass or intimidate someone. This can include everything from sending threatening messages to sharing someone’s personal information or images without their consent. This is a common form of harassment among young people and teens, but it can happen to older people too.

What does harassment look like?

Harassment can appear in many different forms, and it can be difficult to recognise in some cases. Some common examples include bullying, cyberstalking and sending unwanted gifts or messages. Bullying involves targeting someone repeatedly with hurtful or aggressive behaviour, while cyberstalking can involve using technology to follow someone or harass them online.

Though many people might be confused with regard to receiving gifts, sending unwanted gifts or messages can be a form of harassment. This is particularly true if the sender is someone the recipient does not know or has previously requested gifts or messages not to be sent. In general, harassment involves behaviour that isn’t wanted. It’s repetitive behaviour that makes the recipient feel uneasy or other negative emotions.

Unwanted gift

Who is at risk of harassment?

Anyone can be at risk of harassment, regardless of their age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic. However, there are certain groups of people who may be at higher risk of experiencing harassment than others.

For example, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience sexual harassment than men. People of colour, immigrants and members of religious minorities may also be at higher risk of experiencing racial or religious harassment. Those with disabilities too may be more vulnerable to bullying or mistreatment due to their perceived differences.

Additionally, people who work in certain professions may be at higher risk of workplace harassment. For example, people who work in the service industry, healthcare or the entertainment industry are more likely to experience harassment from clients or patients.

It’s important to recognise that anyone can experience harassment and that having a higher risk of harassment doesn’t mean that you will experience it.

Who to report to

If you or someone you know is experiencing harassment, it’s important to report it to the appropriate place. The person or organisation to report to will depend on the situation and the age of the victim.

For children who are being harassed, reporting it to parents or guardians (if they don’t know about it) is the first step. If the harassment is occurring at school or during a club, reporting it here is important too. Teachers, counsellors and other staff can help support children and address the harassment.

For adults who are being harassed, reporting it to the police is often the best course of action. The police can help investigate the situation and take appropriate action to protect the victim and hold the perpetrator accountable.

It’s important to take harassment seriously and to report it as soon as possible to help prevent it from continuing and to provide support to those who are being targeted.

What can be done to stop harassment?

There are a number of steps that can be taken to stop harassment and protect victims from further harm. One option is to seek a restraining order or injunction.

A restraining order is a court order that prohibits the harasser from contacting or coming near the victim, while an injunction can require the harasser to take certain actions or refrain from certain behaviours. These legal actions can be a powerful tool in stopping harassment and providing victims with the protection they need.

Restraining orders

Restraining orders are issued by the UK Criminal Courts for people who commit particular offences. Most of the time, these are issued for people who have been accused of sexual harassment, domestic violence and property damage, for example. It is possible to have a banning order even if the offender is acquitted.

There are different types of restraining orders. A permanent restraining order usually starts straight after the hearing has taken place. These often last indefinitely. A temporary restraining order, or TRO, is valid as soon as it has been issued by the court. These often expire anywhere between five days and two weeks. They can also be issued to last until a further hearing is scheduled.

The purpose of temporary restraining orders is to protect people against further interactions or contact until there is a full hearing. At the full hearing or trial, a permanent restraining order might be applied.

When a restraining order isn’t respected, the offender can be arrested and might receive a fine or prison sentence or both.


Injunctions are similar to restraining orders. Essentially they either require you to do something or require you to not do something. These are called mandatory injunctions and prohibitory injunctions, respectively. Examples of prohibitory injunctions include the prevention of publishing information like a defamatory article or preventing someone from entering someone else’s land. Mandatory injunctions are very rarely issued.

If an injunction is breached, the person is in ‘contempt of court’, which can be punished with a prison sentence of up to two years as well as an unlimited fine. The punishment will vary depending on why the injunction was issued.

What is the difference between a restraining order and an injunction?

Both restraining orders and injunctions protect victims, and they can be used for similar purposes. The main difference is that injunctions can be issued before a person has been charged with any criminal offence. In contrast, a restraining order can only be issued at the end of a trial.

Other ways to stop and prevent harassment

As well as seeking legal support, there are other steps that can be taken to stop harassment. Documenting the harassment and keeping a record of any incidents, including the date, time, location and any witnesses, can help provide evidence if legal action is necessary. Victims should also consider speaking to a trusted friend or family member, seeking counselling or therapy to help process the trauma, and reaching out to organisations that specialise in supporting victims of harassment.

What to do if harassment continues

If harassment continues and a restraining order or injunction isn’t in place, then this would be the next logical step. A restraining order can only be issued when there are criminal proceedings. As such, the victim would need to report the offender and their offences to the police and go to court.

Even if the offender is not found guilty of the offence, a restraining order can still be issued. This is because restraining orders are both protective and preventative in nature. Either the victim of a criminal offence or the prosecutor of a criminal case can request a restraining order. A judge will make the overriding decision on whether to issue the order.

Reporting harassment to police

What long-term effects can harassment have on the victim?

Harassment can have serious and long-lasting effects on the victim’s physical and mental health, as well as their overall well-being. Victims of harassment may experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can cause symptoms such as anxiety, depression and flashbacks long after the harassment has ended. Victims can also develop physical health problems as a result. Common issues include stomach problems, fatigue and headaches.

Besides medical problems, harassment can lead to social isolation. This is because the victim may feel ashamed or embarrassed and may withdraw from social situations. It can also lead to difficulty in building trust due to their past experiences.

A person’s career can also be affected. This isn’t just applicable to those who experience harassment at work, but it can also apply to anyone who has been a victim due to the effect it can have on a person’s mental health, ability to focus and productivity. Though this could affect someone financially, it’s not the only reason why victims of harassment can end up experiencing financial difficulties. Often, people resort to paying for counselling and treatments for mental health problems.

Final thoughts

Harassment can have a significant impact on a victim’s life. It is a serious problem that affects lots of individuals. Harassment can have significant short-term and long-term effects on the victim’s mental and physical health, as well as their career and personal relationships. Taking harassment seriously and reporting it to the appropriate authorities is essential. If necessary, seek legal action. Furthermore, everyone can do their bit to create a culture of respect and intolerance for harassment, where individuals feel safe and supported to speak out against it.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.

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