Bullying and Harassment

Every Aberystwyth student should feel that they have an opportunity to undertake their studies without fear of bullying or harassment. However, if you feel that you may have been treated badly, then we are here to help.

Acts of bullying or harassment committed because of a person’s identity often start with negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes about others. These beliefs are embedded through exposure and repeated reinforcement by those around them.

These beliefs can often form prejudices in a variety of forms because of:

  • race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin.
  • Sex or sexual orientation.
  • Marital or civil partnership status.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave.
  • Gender identity or status.
  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Criminal conviction.

If left unchallenged these beliefs can lead to prejudicial and biased behaviour and potentially more serious acts of discrimination, hate and violence.

The definitions used within this guide are taken from the University’s Student Code on Dignity and Respect. A full list of unacceptable behaviours can be found on the University’s website.

Undeb Aber’s No Excuses campaign exists to empower others to be active bystanders and take action against instances of bullying, harassment, hate crime, sexual assault and other unacceptable behaviours.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as:

“...offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.  

An important aspect of bullying is intention, with no requirement to demonstrate an intention to bully, only that bullying occurred.

There are several forms of bullying, and these behaviours can take place between staff and students or between students themselves. These issues can occur wherever students gather, including, for example, where they live, work, study, play or volunteer (such as sports and societies).

  • Shouting at, being sarcastic towards, ridiculing or demeaning others.
  • Physical or psychological threats.
  • Overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision.
  • Inappropriate and/or derogatory remarks about someone’s performance.
  • Abuse of authority or power by those in positions in seniority.
  • Deliberately excluding someone from meetings or communications without good reason.

For students, the most common types of bullying that are reported include:

  • Direct verbal abuse (name-calling or threats).
  • Social bullying (e.g., spreading rumours, gossiping, humiliating someone in front of others or making humiliating jokes about them).
  • Cyber bullying (doing these types of behaviours but online in chat rooms, social media, gaming etc.).
  • Sexualised bullying (insults about sexuality, perceived promiscuity, or pressure to engage with sexual acts or sexualised communications, sharing of indecent images, indecent touching, or assault).


What is harassment?

Harassment is defined as:

“...unwanted comments or conduct viewed as demeaning and unacceptable by the recipient or by any reasonable person. It may be intentional or otherwise; persistent or an isolated incident”. 

Examples of harassing behaviours include:

  • Unwanted physical contact or ‘horseplay’ including touching, pinching, pushing, grabbing, brushing past someone, invading their personal space and more serious forms of physical or sexual assault (see Sexual Harassment below).
  • Offensive or intimidating comments or gestures, or insensitive jokes or pranks.
  • Mocking, mimicking, or belittling a person’s identity or disability.
  • Racist, sexist, homophobic or ageist jokes, or derogatory or stereotypical remarks about an ethnic or religious group or gender.
  • Ignoring or shunning someone, for example by deliberately excluding them from a conversation or social activity.
  • Persistent unwelcome contact or stalking such as leaving repeated or alarming messages on voice mail or email or by text.

Sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual comments, sexual invitations, innuendos, and offensive gestures including catcalling, groping, pinching, or smacking an individual’s body. It also includes removing clothing without agreement or an individual(s) exposing themselves without consent; inappropriate physical contact, displaying sexually explicit material (on paper or electronically), inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature, indecent requests, or suggestions.

Racial harassment is behaviour which is offensive to the recipient and includes derogatory name calling, inappropriate jokes, comments or conduct based on the perception of race, colour, nationality, or ethnicity.

Harassment on grounds of sexual orientation includes homophobic remarks or jokes, threats to disclose sexuality, spreading malicious rumours and inappropriate questions regarding sexual activity.

Harassment on grounds of gender identity includes inappropriate displays of material that degrades a particular gender, such as a comic or other type of visual; comments or remarks that gender-degrade, such as inappropriate jokes or stories (especially if they are directed at a particular person or group of persons). Also insults or derogatory actions directed towards a person based on their gender; remarks that continue after the person has requested them to stop, or has indicated they are offensive; actual physical contact, assault, or interference with the person due to gender issues.

Aber students, like others, will have protection from harassment through key legislation. The key principles which apply to all of these pieces of legislation is that it does not matter whether a harasser intends to harass or not, but it is more important how the victim feels in context with how a reasonable person might view the particular behaviour.

Effects of bullying or harassment

The effects on the recipient of bullying and harassment vary from individual to individual.  While this list is not exhaustive, it does give an indication of the symptoms that may occur:

  • migraine / severe headaches
  • stomach problems
  • skin complaints/ hives
  • loss of appetite
  • sleeplessness
  • low self-esteem and/or confidence
  • anxiety or depression
  • spikes in anger and sadness
  • social isolation
  • self-harm and/or substance misuse
  • lack of concentration
  • impact on academic performance
  • taking time out of university
  • withdrawing from university

Other unacceptable behaviours

As well as bullying and harassment there are several other behaviours that the Student Code of Dignity defines as unacceptable.


Hate Incident/Crime

A hate incident is defined as:

“any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of (but not limited to) their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.”

A hate crime is an incident which reaches the threshold of a criminal offence.

Hate crimes and incidents can take many forms including:

  • Physical attack – such as a physical assault, on the victim or their family or carer, damage to property or injury to pets, offensive graffiti, and arson.
  • Threat or attack – including offensive letters, abusive telephone calls, groups hanging around to intimidate and unfounded malicious complaints.
  • Verbal abuse or insults – offensive leaflets and posters, abusive gestures, dumping of rubbish outside residences or through letterboxes and bullying.
  • Online abuse – the same hate crime laws apply regarding anything that is published online, either on a website or through social media.


Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is defined as:

“[any] abuse within all kinds of intimate or family-type relationships.”

Such abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional, and can be actual, attempted or threatened. The abuse can begin at any time, in new relationships, or after many years together.

It can also include Coercive Control behaviours which intimidate, degrade, isolate and control, with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is defined as:

“any non-consensual sexual contact.”

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone and can include derogatory name calling, removing, or refusing to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex, deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections and using objects, toys, or other items without consent to cause pain or humiliation.

You can find more information on sexual violence and abuse, including links to various support services in our Sexual Health and Relationships guide.

What to do if you have been affected?

If you believe you have been abused, assaulted, discriminated against, or harassed, by someone, don't blame yourself. Often perceptions of bullying or harassment may arise from a misunderstanding, or from a lack of awareness that a person’s behaviour has been offensive or distressing; in fact, both parties can often feel victimised by a formal investigative process.

The person raising the complaint should always be encouraged and supported where they feel comfortable to approach a person who they are alleging has bullied or harassed them to give examples of such behaviour, to discuss the situation and agree a way forward sometimes using mechanisms such as informal mediation.

However, such an informal approach is not always possible or appropriate, and for this reason the University has a separate Student Code on Dignity and Respect. These rules exist to set clear behavioural expectations about our responsibilities to ensure the dignity and respect of others, as well as the consequences for not doing so.

Any student can report a concern using the University’s online form whether in person, anonymously or as a third-party. Where you identify yourself, your report will be passed to a Student Adviser in the Advice and Money Service based in Student Services. They will contact you and advise you about your options for taking your concern forward, as well as discuss what support is available to you.

It’s important to understand that by submitting a report you are not initiating a formal complaint, which is often one of the options you will have when reporting a concern. Personal or identifiable information will not be disclosed to others without your consent, unless the university believe there is a risk to your or another individual's safety and wellbeing.

If you are nervous about approaching the University with a concern, the Undeb Aber Advice Service can talk you through some of the potential options likely to be available to you, as well as information that could be helpful such as preparing a timeline of instances and recording evidence, be it text or images where appropriate.

You do not have to give details of any names when you come in to see us, but at least you will have all the information needed to make an informed decision on what to do next. We will assist you whatever decision you take, and if needed we can accompany you to any meetings where you would like support and representation.

We can also talk you through what support is available to you and how such concerns might be impacting other areas of your life, whether it’s academic work, living arrangements or relationships with others.

External Support

In addition to the support referenced above there are a range of charities and organisations that provide advice, information and support to individuals who are experiencing bullying and harrassment.

  • Live Fear Free Helpline – is a national helpline supporting those who affected by domestic abuse, sexual violence and/or violence against women. It’s free and operates 24/7 on 0808 80 10 800.
  • New Pathways – a local charity providing a range of specialist and advocacy services for survivors of rape or sexual abuse. They operate a Sexual Assault Referral Centre from which recent victims of rape or sexual assault can receive immediate help and support.
  • Citizens Advice – a national charity which provides advice services across the UK. Their website includes useful information on the different types of harassment and hate crime individuals experience, including disability hate crime, racist and religious hate crime, sexual harassment, and sexual orientation hate crime.
  • West Wales Domestic Abuse Service – is a local charity providing a range of support services to those experiencing or affected by domestic abuse.
  • True Vision – is a national website with information and support on what a hate crime is and how to report hate crime.
  • Community Security Trust – is a national charity which provides security advice and support to victims of anti-Semitic hatred, harassment, or bias.
  • Galop – is a national ant-violence charity supporting lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people affected by sexual violence.
  • Welsh Women’s Aid – is a national charity in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.
  • The National Stalking Helpline – is a national helpline providing information, advice, and support options for victims of stalking.
  • BAWSO – a national voluntary organisation providing specialist services in Wales to black and minority ethnic women and children made homeless through domestic abuse, including topics such as forced marriage, FGM and ‘honour-based’ abuse.
  • Dyn Wales – a free and confidential helpline which support men who experience domestic abuse in Wales.
  • Respect – is a national advice line for male victims of domestic abuse.
  • Stonewall – is a national charity which campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain, providing help and advice for LGBT communities and their allies.
  • Scope – is a national charity providing practical and emotional support to ensure all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness.
  • Victim Support – is a national charity which support those affected by crime and traumatic incidents. While you should typically be referred to an organisation like Victim Support when you report a crime, you can contact them directly.

What can the Undeb Aber Advice Service do to help?

The Undeb Aber Advice Service is independent from the University and provides a free, confidential, and impartial service to all Aberystwyth University students. 

The Advice Service can assist you in a range of ways, including:

  • Providing impartial advice for your circumstances.
  • Advice on how to respond to allegations and preparing for any meetings.
  • Accompany you where appropriate to any meetings to provide support and representation.
  • Help signpost you to other support services.

Contact an Advisor

Useful links

First Produced: May 2021

Reviewed: April 2024