Violence at University Pilot Project: Student experiences of violence, harassment and discrimination

This study was conducted in partnership with City, University of London, Universities UK (UUK), University of Surrey and De Montfort University.
Students walking up steps
  • Authors:
    Nathan Hudson
    Dr Carrie Myers
  • Publishing date:
    26 May 2023

About the study

This report outlines findings from a small-scale pilot study which aimed to explore the feasibility of conducting survey research related to student experiences of violence, harassment and discrimination.

Conducted in partnership with City, University of London, Universities UK (UUK), University of Surrey and De Montfort University, this pilot study explored key considerations around survey design and dissemination to ascertain the feasibility of large-scale survey work in the future. The study also identified themes relevant to student experiences of violence, including sexual violence and identity-based harassment.


Tackling violence, harassment and hate crime is high on the agenda for UK universities. Since 2010 the National Union of Students has conducted surveys that evidence problematic behaviours within university settings, including sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances amongst the student population. Further research also provides evidence of staff sexual misconduct and predatory behaviours, as well as racial and homophobic harassment, prejudice and (cyber)-bullying. In 2016 Universities UK (UUK) launched ‘Changing the Culture’, a strategic framework to support universities to prevent and respond to violence against women, harassment and hate crimes affecting university students. Follow-up reports in 2018 and 2019 demonstrate that although some progress has been made in tackling student experiences of violence, much more work needs to be done. Within this context, this report outlines findings from a non-representative, self-selecting sample of 263 UK-based students, outlining their experiences violence, harassment, and discrimination, as well as key insights into perpetrators and the settings in which their experiences of violence occurred.


The findings of the survey outlined students to experience a wide range of violence, discrimination and harassment. Sexual bullying and harassment were particularly common reported forms of violence; of which many experiences were reported as in-person rather than online. Examples included unwelcome touching or physical contact, inappropriate starring or leering, incidents of sexually suggestive comments, jokes or gestures and indecent exposure. Locations in which students commonly reported experiencing sexual violence included public transport, in social spaces (such as pubs and clubs) and on the street / in public. Commonly reported perpetrators of sexual violence included strangers and fellow students as well as (in a few cases) university staff members.

Identity-based violence was also commonly reported by survey respondents. This included experiences of sexism and misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, disability discrimination and classism. Reported behaviours including verbal abuse, physical abuse and intentional social exclusion.

Responding students also reported experiencing a wide range of violence enacted online. Examples included receiving threatening messages, sharing of targeted hate content and the setting up of websites and groups targeted for harassment, as well experiences of trolling, doxxing and pile-ons.

Regarding survey design, the findings of the report outlined a need for further exploratory qualitative work and cognitive testing to explore barriers to responding to surveys looking to collect data specifically on experiences of violence. Further work is also needed on how to ascertain the prevalence of violence experienced by students; a complex task given the diverse nature of experiences. The demographic of respondents also indicates a likely need for a targeted work to promote survey responses amongst particular groups of students, particularly men and international students.

Additional information 

Myers, CA; Cowie, H; Hudson, N; Powell-Jones, H and Short, E. 2023 '“It Was Only A Bit Of Fun”– When Bullying And Cyberbullying Becomes Harassment And Sexual Violence Among University Students – Findings From The Violence At University Project' in Cowie, H and Myers, CA. eds. Cyberbullying and Online Harms: Preventions and Interventions from Community to Campus