Relationship abuse and sexual violence

Keele University is committed to promoting a safe and supportive campus environment for all members of our community. Whether you have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence yourself, or you’re supporting someone who has, you will find information here about support options, reporting options, and where to go for further advice.

What is sexual violence?

The term "sexual violence" is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that is used to describe any kind of unwanted sexual activity that takes place without consent. 

Examples of sexual violence include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Unwanted sexual images
  • Revenge porn
  • Making unwanted sexual comments or suggestions
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Indecent exposure or flashing
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sex trafficking

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, class, or background. If you have experienced any kind of sexual violence, no matter where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing, what you were saying, if you were drunk or under the influence of drugs, it was not your fault; you are not to blame.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour. Most cases of domestic abuse are perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner, but the term also applies to abuse carried out by a family member or carer. It can include:

  • Coercive control  
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse  
  • Physical or sexual abuse  
  • Financial or economic abuse  
  • Harassment and stalking  
  • Online or digital abuse  

Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. It is just as likely to be mental and emotional and can take the form of coercive control. This is controlling behaviour which is designed to isolate the victim and cut them off from friends and family. The perpetrator wants to make their victim lose their independence and become completely reliant on them, so that they don’t have anyone else to turn to. 

Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy

The University's policy on sexual violence and misconduct sets out our commitments to tackling the issue, and the support that can be provided to students. Please click the button below to download the full version of the statement, or take a look at the dropdown menus for a simplified version of what this means for you as a student.

Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy for Staff and Students (247 KB)

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At Keele we recognise that sexual violence and harassment are prevalent in society, including higher education. The term ‘sexual misconduct’ can also be used. This policy covers a wide range of behaviours, such as physical sexual assault, intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, controlling behaviour and unwanted sexual comments. 

This policy outlines our approach to preventing and responding to cases of sexual misconduct. In summary, we deliver staff and student training, awareness raising campaigns, provide tailored support to student victim/survivors and investigate reports when made. We have a duty of care to all our students and staff and take steps to protect their safety. We want our community to feel comfortable to come forward and access support. We also have a duty of care to those accused of sexual misconduct and will signpost to appropriate support and guidance. 

This policy applies to all members of the university community and relates to all incidents of sexual misconduct (see definitions below for examples), whether they occur on or off campus. However, if the student affected is studying at a partner institution, we will work with the partner to help the student access support and reporting options at their local institution. In all but exceptional cases, we will only take disciplinary action against the perpetrator with the consent of the reporting student. Where formal reports are received, accused students will be investigated under student discipline regulations and accused staff will be investigated under staff disciplinary procedures. Where a report would also be classed as a criminal offence and the reporting student involves the police, we may have to suspend our internal processes until criminal processes are completed.  

Types of behaviour that may be classed as sexual misconduct:

  • Engaging, or attempting to engage in a sexual act with another individual without consent;
  • Sexually touching another person without their consent;
  • Kissing without consent;
  • Conduct of a sexual nature which creates (or could create) an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for others including making unwanted remarks of a sexual nature;
  • Inappropriately showing sexual organs to another person;
  • Repeatedly following another person;
  • Recording and/or sharing intimate images or recordings of another person without their consent;
  • Arranging or participating in events or conduct which may reasonably be assumed to cause degradation and humiliation to those who have experienced sexual violence, e.g. inappropriately themed social events or initiations.

Other definitions:

Domestic abuse and coercive control: an incident or pattern of behaviour that is controlling, threatening, intimidating, violent or abusive that intends to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.

Complicity: helping or encouraging another person to commit sexual misconduct.

Retaliation: words or actions, such as intimidation or threats, made in response to a report of sexual misconduct.

Vexatious reporting: creating continued and unjustified reports of sexual misconduct, or a refusal to accept decisions made under the policy

Malicious reporting: making a report of sexual misconduct that the reporting student knows to be false.

Consent: making an agreement to sexual activity and having the freedom and capacity to do so.

Freedom to consent: being able to make the decision to consent from own free will.

Coercion or force: threats or acts of physical or emotional harm that make the victim feel they have no choice but to take part in the sexual activity.

Capacity to consent: the ability to understand the sexual activity that they are consenting to, and not to be asleep, unconscious, or semi-conscious. Some disabilities can also mean that a person doesn’t have the capacity to consent. In addition, those under the age of 16 can’t legally consent to sexual activity.

Alcohol and drug use: a common reason why someone lacks the capacity to consent. Signs of incapacitation caused by alcohol and drugs may include slurred speech, unsteady physical movements, bloodshot or dilated eyes, unusual behaviour, blacking out, lack of awareness, or not being able to communicate effectively. Being intoxicated as a perpetrator is never an excuse for committing the act.

If there’s any doubt about a person’s ability to freely give consent, the sexual act shouldn’t take place.

We want students to feel comfortable disclosing incidents to us, and we will respect your confidentiality in all cases where possible. For example, we won’t share information with your academic school without your consent. However, in line with safeguarding procedures there may be some occasions where confidentiality has to be breached due to our legal obligations. We also ask that you keep information that is shared with you as part of the investigation process confidential. As part of the investigation process, we may be able to share certain details such as restrictions and penalties. We will of course follow data protection regulations throughout all investigation processes. 

  • We have a duty under the Equality Act to take action to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • We aim to create an environment where students feel comfortable to disclose incidents of sexual misconduct.
  • Students who have experienced any form of sexual violence can access support from a Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO), even if they don’t want to formally report the incident.
  • Staff who have experienced sexual violence can access support through ‘Safe Contacts’ available through HR. Support is also available from Occupational Health and staff counselling.
  • Students who have been accused of sexual misconduct can access support from Student Services and ASK in the Students’ Union.
  • We can only investigate reports of sexual misconduct where the accused person is a Keele student and with the consent of the reporting student, unless there are safeguarding concerns that need to be addressed.
  • We will carry out investigations with diligence and sensitivity in line with Regulation B1.
  • Discipline committee panels will have received training on sexual violence and misconduct.
  • If a case is found proven, sanctions will be applied, which can include termination of studies for students and dismissal from the University for staff.
  • Staff sexual misconduct cases will be supported by a Safe Contact independent from the investigation.
  • We will not ask students to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in relation to incidents of sexual misconduct.
  • We work alongside the Students’ Union to deliver our #NeverOK campaign which builds awareness of and aims to end violence and discrimination at Keele. As part of this we encourage our students to be active bystanders and safely step in if they witness unacceptable behaviour.
  • We deliver prevention activities and education campaigns to help students to understand and challenge cultural norms related to sex and relationships.
  • We understand that any member of staff at Keel could receive a disclosure about sexual violence, therefore our disclosure training is available to all staff.
  • We work with the Students’ Union and KPA to help keep our community safe, through resources such as Campus Security, Safezone App, Students’ Union safety buses and the student led Street Team.
  • We want to continue to learn how we can best support our students, and therefore welcome feedback from our community which can be given to Student Services or Human Resources.

Although women and people with a protected characteristic can be more likely to experience sexual violence, we know that incidents can happen to anyone – regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, relationship status, age, disability, faith, ethnicity, nationality and economic status and we will support all students regardless of background.

If you wish to discuss this policy or its contents, you can contact Student Services or Human Resources. 

Related policies:

  • Regulation B1: Student Discipline
  • Student Procedure for conducting a Mutual Resolution Process for cases of Sexual Misconduct
  • Regulation B5 Fitness to Practise
  • Bullying, Harassment and Victimisation Policy Statement - Students
  • Disciplinary and Appeals Procedure for Academic Staff
  • Staff Disciplinary and Appeals Procedure
  • Policy & Procedure to Deal With Complaints Regarding Bullying, Harassment and Victimisation – Staff
  • Safeguarding Policy

This policy will be approved by the University Executive Committee and reviewed every three years or sooner if changes are needed.