Defining harassment

Defining harassment

Is it harassment?

You may be unsure whether certain behaviour amounts to harassment. Discussing the situation with a harassment advisor may help in making this assessment. The advisor can also provide further information on the steps that can be taken if the behaviour in question does not appear to be harassment under the terms of this guidance.

Students may also consult a College Officer with pastoral responsibilities, OUSU's Student Advice service, or the Proctors. Set out below is information to help you to decide if particular kinds of behaviour may be harassment.

Definition of harassment

A person subjects another to harassment where he or she engages in unwanted and unwarranted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:

(a) violating that other's dignity; or

(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that other.

Harassment may involve repeated forms of unwanted and unwarranted behaviour, but a one-off incident can also amount to harassment.

Harassment on grounds of sex, race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, and/ or age may amount to unlawful discrimination. Harassment may also breach other legislation and may in some circumstances be a criminal offence (e.g. under the provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, Sex Discrimination Act, etc).

Harassment on the grounds of an individual's sex can include either sexual harassment (i.e. harassment of a sexual nature), or sex-related harassment (i.e. unwanted conduct related to the complainant's sex or that of another person). Neither of these forms of harassment is acceptable.

Reasonable and proper management instructions administered in a fair and proper way, or reasonable and proper review of a member of staff's or a student's work and/ or performance will not constitute harassment. Behaviour will not normally amount to harassment if the conduct complained of could not reasonably be perceived as offensive.

Intention and motive

The perpetrator's motives are not the main factor in deciding if behaviour amounts to harassment - it is the effect that the alleged behaviour has on the recipient that is important. Just because certain behaviour may be acceptable to the alleged harasser or another person does not mean it is not harassment.

Bullying

Bullying is a form of harassment. It may be characterised by offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. It may or may not be based on a specific personal characteristic (e.g. disability, gender, race).

Victimisation

Victimisation occurs specifically when a person is treated less favourably because they have asserted their rights under this guidance, either in making a complaint or in assisting a complainant in an investigation.

The College will endeavour to protect any member of staff, student, or visitor from victimisation for bringing a complaint or assisting in an investigation.

Victimisation is a form of misconduct which may in itself result in a disciplinary process, regardless of the outcome of the original complaint of harassment.

Examples

Examples of behaviour that may amount to harassment include:

  1. suggestive comments or body language;
  2. verbal or physical threats;
  3. insulting, abusive, embarrassing or patronising behaviour or comments;
  4. offensive gestures, language, rumours, gossip or jokes;
  5. humiliating, intimidating, demeaning and/or persistent criticism;
  6. open hostility;
  7. isolation or exclusion from normal work or study place, conversations, or social events;
  8. publishing, circulating or displaying pornographic, racist, sexually suggestive or otherwise offensive pictures or other materials;
  9. unwanted physical contact, ranging from an invasion of space to a serious assault.

(The above list is not intended to be exhaustive.)

All these examples may also amount to bullying, particularly when the conduct is coupled with the inappropriate exercise of power or authority over another person. Many of the above examples of behaviour may occur through the use of internet, email, other electronic media, or telephone/ mobile phone.

Being under the influence of alcohol or otherwise intoxicated will not be admitted as an excuse for harassment, and may be regarded as an aggravating feature.