A few ways to find support if you or your friend has experienced sexual misconduct in Cambridge

There is no ‘right’ way to respond to sexual misconduct

CN: Discussions of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, abuse and rape. In particular, the article responds to the news of Sarah Everard’s death with a provision of support resources for sexual misconduct. There are also mentions of the university’s reporting procedures for sexual misconduct.

Across the nation, conversations about sexual violence and assault have broken out both on social media and in-person following the tragic death of Sarah Everard and her disappearance on the way home from a friend’s. A Met police officer has been arrested on suspicion of murder. 

This news, and ensuing activism, has no doubt been a powerful conversation starter, but for many survivors of sexual abuse such conversations can be triggering, emotionally challenging or overwhelming. This article signposts a few support lines which might be useful to anyone in this situation. 

As well as this, many students in Cambridge have begun sharing upsetting stories of feeling unsafe in Cambridge, be it in clubs, the streets or their own colleges. These testimonies may be deeply harrowing, but are also part of the everyday reality that people of marginalised genders face. 

(Credit: Hassan Raja, @capturedhr via Instagram)

One positive thing we hope comes out of this social movement is a growing determination to prevent sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour at our university. Sadly, many of us do not feel safe in Cambridge, and it is important to know where we can seek support, should we experience sexual misconduct of any kind. 

The reality is many people may face sexual misconduct during their time at Cambridge, but not everyone may know how to respond to it. The Tab has put together a list of resources to raise awareness of ways in which we can seek support or help friends who’ve experienced harassment or assault, to help you best support your welfare and find support should you experience sexual misconduct.

What do we mean by ‘sexual misconduct’?

97 per cent of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment, and it’s important to ask ourselves what this looks like. Many people do not realise they’ve experienced sexual misconduct until much later, and this is often because our education often leaves us ill-equipped for recognising harassment. 

The University defines sexual harassment as “single or repeated incidents of unwanted or unwarranted conduct towards another person which it is reasonable to think would have the effect of  (i) violating that other’s dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that other. 

“This harassment may be verbal, psychological, or physical, in person or via a virtual platform, or through other methods of contact.”

The University also has a list of behaviours that constitute sexual misconduct, which can be found in their Code of Conduct

The important takeaway is that there is no one definition of sexual harassment or misconduct. If it’s making you feel uncomfortable and it’s unwanted, then you would be more than justified in wanting to call it out if you feel able to do so. We sadly live in a society that is too familiar with gaslighting survivors, and not equipped enough to support them. You should never feel you need to justify your experiences or compare them to others. Any form of sexual misconduct is unacceptable and deserves to be treated as such. It’s as important as ever that we know what resources are available to us, and how we can support loved ones when dealing with sexual misconduct. 

What you can do if you’ve experienced sexual misconduct?

Sexual assault is not something any of us want to imagine facing, but it’s important that we are aware of advisable steps to take should it occur. 

If you have experienced sexual misconduct, you may experience a range of feelings. Some common feelings can include shock and numbness, disruption, fear, a loss of control, anger, guilt, anxiety or any other feeling. These feelings may not be consistent and however you feel is normal, valid and justified. 

Loud and Clear, a consent campaign in Cambridge, have put together a comprehensive guide for victims of sexual assault, which we highly recommend you read for further information on responding to sexual misconduct.

It can be helpful to seek pastoral support in the aftermath of an incident of harassment or assault. The university has a Sexual Assault and Harassment Adviser (SAHA), who you can arrange an appointment with to talk through your feelings and find further sources of support. Your experience does not have to be recent, or to have taken place whilst you were at university in order for you to access support from the SAHA.

Other common sources of support could include speaking to family and friends, pastoral staff at your college, or support services and helplines such as Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre or Cambridge Nightline. We have detailed a much more extensive list of support sources at the end of this article which you may find useful. Likewise, it’s okay if you don’t feel able to seek support at this time, or if you seek support at a later date. However you choose to respond, and whatever support you seek, is valid. 

If the assault was physical, Loud and Clear advise that in the immediate aftermath you do not shower, go to the bathroom or change your clothing. All of this can destroy important physical evidence, should you decide to report the assault. 

If you do have to remove your clothes at any point place them (including all underwear) in a brown paper bag (plastic bags can destroy evidence). They recommend writing down everything you remember happening – both for your own healing process and in case you later decide to report.

It is also important to seek medical attention if you are able to in case of hidden injuries and potential impregnation or sexually transmitted infections. It is important to note that if you receive medical attention and evidence is collected this does not mean you have to report the assault to law enforcement. 

Navigating Cambridge University as a survivor of sexual misconduct

(Credit: @loudandclearcampaign via Instagram)

However you respond to your experience of sexual misconduct, your response is valid: there is no right or wrong way to react. Some people may find their experiences impact their time at Cambridge. This can make university difficult to navigate and manage: from academic work and living arrangements to your involvement in societies and social settings. There are a number of ways you can access support for these different issues. 

Firstly, you can access counselling services free of charge both through the university or your college, and there are also support groups for people who have experienced sexual misconduct. You are able to speak to the SAHA at any time. 

You are also able to ask for support and adjustments from your college or faculty if you feel this would be helpful to you. To do so you can contact your tutor or another staff member in a pastoral position such as your college nurse. These adjustments are likely to be individually based on your own experiences but can range from ensuring your supervisors leave the door open in supervisions and using content notes in lectures, to adjustments in your accommodation. You may also be able to speak to J/MCR officers in your colleges about introducing other adjustments, such as women and non-binary gym hours. 

Outside of college, many societies have people you can talk to about ensuring their space is welcoming and accessible to survivors of sexual misconduct. For example, within theatre, the Old Vag Club focuses on issues of sexual assault, or within university sports, you can speak to the relevant welfare officers or staff at the University Sports Centre. Many other campaigns also have events that can avoid triggering environments, such as those which are centred around drinking. For example, the LGBT+ campaign has regular coffee hours and games nights.

How to support a friend who has experienced sexual misconduct

For many, broader societal cultures of victim-blaming and a lack of proper consent training have left us feeling unequipped to support a friend who comes to us with a story of sexual harassment. Thankfully, there is other advice available for handling these situations. 

If a friend discloses a story of sexual misconduct, keep in mind that you might be the first and only person they’ve ever told. This takes a lot of courage, so most importantly, believe them. Listen without pressing them, respect their privacy, offer comfort as much as you can such as by validating their feelings. Never suggest they are in any way to blame for the misconduct they faced. Even just being a reassuring presence can help; knowing someone is there if you need them is important in itself. Let them lead the conversation and don’t press them on anything they’re uncomfortable talking about. 

It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and upset on their behalf, and while you’ll probably want to do everything you can to help, remember that you can’t control their course of action. Ask how you can help, and be patient. You can advise or encourage them to seek pastoral support such as counselling, or report the incident, but don’t pressure them and respect their decision if they do not wish to do so, particularly regarding reporting. 

Remember to look after your own wellbeing too. You may find your friend’s story triggering for your own personal reasons, and it’s okay if you are unable to directly support them yourself. It’s okay to direct them to professional support services in the absence of knowing how to provide concrete help. If this is the case, remember you’re not obliged to share your own story or reasons for feeling uncomfortable if you don’t want to, but try and be as supportive as you can whilst still looking after yourself.  

This is especially important at the moment, given the significant amount of discourse concerning sexual misconduct taking place on social media, including pages such as Camfess.  This can be incredibly overwhelming, tiring and triggering and it’s important to be attentive to the needs of survivors online. This includes ensuring any triggering posts are appropriately content noted, signposting appropriate resources and treating people with the kindness and respect that we would in-person. Likewise, it is okay to not want to engage in social media at this time. Your own well-being, as well as that of survivors of sexual misconduct should always be prioritised in these conversations, in whatever format they’re taking place. 

Above all, remember that there is no monolith of “what survivors want” or what their response to their experience should be. Among survivors there is a massive diversity of experiences, attitudes and needs which cannot be neatly summarised: this is why a survivor-oriented approach both to justice and in the wider discourse around sexual violence is so important. Avoid bringing your preconceptions and assumptions about survivors from the media to conversations about sexual misconduct. The best thing you can do is give them a space where they are listened to, where they can reclaim their agency and feel empowered to articulate to you what their needs are. 

For additional advice, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) have some great resources on talking to survivors of sexual assault and so does SafeLine. The University of Exeter has a helpful page on their website on how to support a friend with sexual misconduct. Finally, Loud and Clear’s 2020 guide has a comprehensive “mythbusting” section detailing advice on what to say and what not to say to a friend who approaches you regarding their experiences of sexual harassment or assault.

You shouldn’t ever feel pressured to report an incident

It is important to note that the decision to report should always be down to the survivor, and there are advantages and disadvantages to all of these methods of reporting, and choosing not to report is an equally valid option. We would really recommend you to read Loud and Clear’s guide, which provides more details on reporting procedures and their advantages and disadvantages. 

Remember, if you have experienced sexual misconduct and decide not to report it, this is a perfectly valid response. Not reporting sexual misconduct in no way undermines your experiences. Reporting systems are often flawed, and even if they were perfect many people may still not wish to report, and instead favour survivor-oriented approaches to justice. Likewise, if a friend has experienced sexual misconduct and doesn’t report it, remember this is their decision to make and it is not your place to disrespect or question those decisions.

People who have experienced sexual assault may worry about reporting an incident, either to the police or their college/university) for a number of reasons: perhaps they were drinking or taking drugs at the time, had consented to part, but not all, of the sexual act, they didn’t actively say “no” or fight back or had been in a relationship or had prior sexual history with the person who assaulted them. However, if you feel you would like to report an experience of sexual misconduct remember these factors in no way invalidate your experiences. 

Loud and Clear further advises on this in their guide, saying: “Despite the massive flaws in the justice and law enforcement systems in regard to rape and sexual assault, none of these factors invalidate the fact that you have experienced sexual assault in the eyes of the law. Please do not feel unable to speak out about your experience for fear that you won’t be taken seriously due to any of the above factors.”

This is really important to remember especially given the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place. Even if you were not abiding by Covid-19 restrictions, this does not invalidate the assault you have experienced so please do not allow this to prevent you from speaking out if you were otherwise thinking of reporting. 

Reporting sexual misconduct

Reporting procedures at Cambridge are far from perfect, and reporting sexual misconduct can be re-traumatising for survivors, particularly for those affected by intersectionalities other than gender. However, if you do decide you would like to report your experience there are a number of different ways to go about this: whether this is to your college, the university, or to the police. It is important to note this can be done anonymously, informally and formally.

Ways to report sexual misconduct within the university

Sexual misconduct can be reported to the Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA). Some people may prefer to report sexual misconduct in this way as OSCCA have more experience dealing with these issues, and there may be less conflict of interest than at a college-level. There are three main ways to do this:

Anonymously: Reports of sexual misconduct can be made anonymously here. Because of the anonymous nature, no action can be taken, however, it can provide important data to the university on the prevalence of sexual misconduct within Cambridge. 

Informally: Sexual misconduct can be reported informally via OSCCA; you can do so here. Pastoral support will be offered to you throughout the process, for example, you may be directed to the SAHA who can provide both emotional and practical support.  This process involves an initial meeting, which will be followed by a referral for investigation. At this point, the investigator will individually meet you, the perpetrator, and any witnesses and gather evidence on the case. They will then write a report on the complaint with a recommended course of action. If you and the perpetrator agree to this, this will then be implemented. Actions taken can be similar to those available through the informal college-level process, such as Behaviour Awareness training, preventing contact and a conduct agreement. 

Formally:  The form for formally reporting sexual misconduct via OSCCA can be found here. As before, pastoral support will be offered to you throughout the process. The procedure is the same as above, although the perpetrator will not be able to contact you during the investigation and you will also need to attend a disciplinary committee meeting to give evidence to the committee. You are also able to provide an impact statement. Disciplinary actions which can be taken against the perpetrator include the same as above, in addition to the perpetrator being restricted from using university or college facilities and services and the temporary or permanent exclusion of the perpetrator. 

Ways to report sexual misconduct within your college

Another way you can report sexual misconduct is through your college. Reporting sexual misconduct through your college can have pros and cons: for example, you may have previous relationships with those involved in the investigation, which can potentially be a source of support, but this can also create conflicts of interest. However, it is another option available to you if this is something you would be comfortable doing: 

Informally: Sexual misconduct can be reported informally within your college. To do so, you should speak to a college staff member (normally in a pastoral position) to whom you feel comfortable disclosing your experiences. For example, this could be your personal tutor, college nurse or director of studies. Because of the informal nature of this reporting system, no investigation will be made, no judgement will be made on the credibility of the complaint and no record or paper trail will be made of the complaint. This means no disciplinary action can be taken, however, “alternative resolutions” might be reached. This could include the perpetrator attending behaviour awareness training, or preventing them from being in contact with you (for example, in academic settings or accommodation), although it is important to note these outcomes are not guaranteed and can be college-dependent.  

Formally: Sexual misconduct can also be reported formally within colleges, which means disciplinary action can be taken, this can include requiring the perpetrator to intermit or be excluded, as well as the same disciplinary measures mentioned above. Colleges have different reporting systems in place: there may be a reporting form on your college website or you contact your tutor, senior tutor or another pastoral figure to make a complaint. If the senior tutor decides to refer the case, an independent trained investigator may be appointed who will individually meet the victim and perpetrator and gather evidence. They will then write a report on the recommended course of action to be taken, which your senior tutor will then decide whether or not to implement. A record of the investigation will be kept in case of further complaint. 

Reporting sexual misconduct outside of the university 

It is also of course possible to report sexual misconduct outside of college/OSCCA procedures and using Cambridge-specific procedures don’t prevent you from reporting to the police. You can report a crime to the Cambridgeshire Police here. Normally, if a college/OSCCA investigation has been started and you then report your case to the police the college/OSCCA investigation will be suspended. However, they can still enforce action to limit contact with the perpetrator and offer pastoral support. 

In the case that the assault was physical and immediately after the assault you are considering making a police report, Loud and Clear advise that in the immediate aftermath you do not shower, go to the bathroom or change your clothing. All of this can destroy important physical evidence, should you decide to report the assault. 

If you do have to remove your clothes at any point place them (including all underwear) in a brown paper bag (plastic bags can destroy evidence). They recommend writing down everything you remember happening – both for your own healing process and in case you later decide to report.

Pastoral support is also available outside of the university: Groups such as the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre offer specialist support to women in Cambridge who have experienced sexual misconduct, from emotional support and counselling to advocacy support and advice. There is also a private Facebook group for survivors of sexual misconduct in Cambridge which you can join by messaging Amy Bottomley here. No-one who is not in the group will know that you are in the group. 

Resources available within the University of Cambridge

These are some advice resources that have been put together by the university or by student-led societies in the university: 

University Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor (SAHA): The SAHA is a specialist support worker providing emotional and practical support to anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct – regardless of whether this took place at the university. You do not have to report your experience to access support from the SAHA and you can arrange an appointment to speak to them here. 

Loud and Clear 2020 guide: Loud and Clear is a campaign working for a university-wide scale to reform both college and university level procedures relating to sexual misconduct and create a culture of zero-tolerance for sexual misconduct. In 2020 they put together a very comprehensive guide to sexual misconduct in Cambridge: from responding to sexual assault as a victim, to supporting friends and providing resources for survivors. This article has heavily drawn on the expertise of Loud and Clear and we would really recommend reading their guide in full. 

University student complaints procedure: This page provides lots of advice and details from the university on how to report harassment and sexual misconduct, including a more detailed description of each reporting procedure, a list of prevention and support initiatives and further links to online resources and awareness campaigns. 

University Counselling service: The University Counselling Service offers a range of support to survivors of sexual assault, from counselling and support groups to leaflets on sexual abuse and rape and post-traumatic stress and a student guide to sexual misconduct which provides key messages to survivors of sexual assault and includes suggestions of people to speak to. 

External help available in Cambridge 

There are many reasons why someone who’s experienced sexual misconduct wouldn’t seek support from the university or report their experiences. Our reporting system has been shown to have its own problems, and in the past, students who have reported incidences of assault and rape to the university have had their cases dismissed or mishandled

If going through the university hasn’t worked out or isn’t preferable to you, one option is contacting the Cambridge rape crisis centre. They have a helpline open at restricted hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, as well as an email service. They also have a counselling service that is open to self-referrals, as well as support groups and specific resources for male survivors. 

(Credit: @cambridgerapecrisis via Instagram

You can also get in touch with your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre, which in Cambridge is The Elms in Huntingdon. They offer free support to anyone who has experienced sexual violence. They can offer you support ranging from medical treatment to forensic examination, as well as advice and aftercare. You can either go through the police to get referred to a SARC or go through the self-referral process

Support helplines 

If you’re in need of support in the form of a conversation and are mainly looking for someone to share your experiences or talk through your options with, there are national support helplines available. 

With sexual assault being talked about all over social media and the press, some may have found posts triggering and if you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable and in need of support, there is support available for you. 

The Survivor’s Trust helpline is open seven days a week, and SupportLine provides a confidential helpline service via telephone, email and post. 

You could also contact Cambridge Nightline, an anonymous night-time listening service run by students, for students. They are currently operating an anonymous messaging service for Cambridge and ARU students from 7 pm to 12 am every day. 


Sexual violence can be experienced by anyone, but certain groups are disproportionately likely to be affected or may have different experiences and it’s important we do more to be intersectional in the way we address this issue, so no one feels marginalised within these conversations. Loud and Clear have helpfully provided a list of different organisations who are aimed at helping specific groups of people who may be affected by sexual abuse, but are often not properly addressed by media or mainstream organisations:  

LGBT+ students

Switchboard: Switchboard is a listening service for LGBT+ people for those struggling with gender and sexual identity, but also have resources available for people who have experienced abuse of any kind.

(Credit @switchboardlgbt via Instagram)

 Galop: An LGBT+ anti-violence charity, dealing with hate crime, sexual violence and domestic abuse. They run helplines and trans advocacy and self-referred support services. 

Bi Survivors Network: Open to people of all gender identities, BSN provides a space for bisexual survivors to talk and find solidarity, meeting every other Wednesday at 7.30 pm. 

Disabled students

Disabled Survivors Unite is a charity that provides support and advice to disabled survivors of sexual violence, given that many services are not currently as accessible to the disabled community. 

Respond provides therapy and support to those with learning disabilities, autism or both who have experienced trauma in their lives. This includes psychotherapy and forensic services. 

BAME students

Ashiana is open to all BME women, but particularly those from South Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern backgrounds. They provide specialist advice, advocacy and counselling to those experiencing or who have experienced sexual abuse.

Imkaan is not a direct service provider, but have a very comprehensive list of resources and services on their website for women of colour, inspired by Black feminist thinking. 

Muslim Women’s Network UK offers a helpline, counselling service and advocacy for Muslim women around a number of specific issues, including sexual exploitation and domestic abuse.


Survivors Trust is for male survivors of sexual violence, with 120 member organisations in the UK and Ireland. The closest support centre to Cambridge is the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre. Survivors Trust also help people find Independent Sexual Violence Advisers for men, the closest to Cambridge being The Elms in Huntingdon.

SafeLine is a male helpline and online service, as well as counselling and therapy.   

This is a painful conversation to have, but a necessary one

Ultimately, we hope you come away from reading this assured that you are not alone and that there is no one way to respond to sexual misconduct. Whether you’re a survivor, someone who’s looking to support a friend, or someone who’s been shocked and terrified by the recent news and wants to create change, we hope this article has increased awareness of different resources available. 

One of the saddest things about social movements like this is that they stopped getting talked about once the momentum fades, but by educating ourselves hopefully we can shift cultures around sexual misconduct and work towards a position of zero-tolerance.

(Credit: Hassan Raja, @capturedhr via Instagram)

Often the burden of educating people on a particular issue falls on those who are most hurt and affected by it. It’s been challenging for us to make this article, but more than worth it for the potential it might have to support someone who’s experiencing misconduct. To anyone feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, saddened or any other emotion, we hear you. This is an incredibly emotional time and whatever response you have at the moment is perfectly normal.

We hope that anyone who feels able to might share these resources with others. This is such a difficult conversation for so many of us, but the power we can have in the knowledge of handling these situations is part of the beginning of the change we can hope to see.

Feature image credit: Unsplash and @guardian via Instagram 

Related articles recommended by this Author:

Cambridge’s reporting procedure for sexual harassment is broken, and here’s how we can fix it

Meet Loud and Clear: The project challenging the culture around sexual assault

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