Sexual violence and misconduct (SVM)

The University of Plymouth does not tolerate sexual violence and misconduct (SVM). We are committed to providing an environment where all members of our community feel safe, are respected, and can study, work and live free from harm.

The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy aims to help and protect students by:

  • Providing a definition of sexual violence and misconduct, along with examples of inappropriate behaviour
  • Outlining the support available to students
  • Explaining the choices available to you if you have experienced any form of SVM.

This policy links with the Student Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Procedure which will be referred to and followed for complaints made about students. Any complaints about members of staff will be referred to the Staff Disciplinary Policy and Procedure. 

We understand that trying to get to grips with the meaning of key phrases when it comes to Sexual Violence and Misconduct and University policies can be confusing.

For various legal reasons and for consistency across departments, the University has adopted a glossary of key terms to ensure that everyone is working to the same definitions. This glossary is regularly updated to reflect the evolution of our language on often emotive topics and we welcome feedback from our staff, students and community.

View our latest guidance on terminology

COVID-19

We recognise that reporting an incident of SVM is likely to be incredibly difficult. Barriers to disclosure include fear, shame, disbelief, denial, worry about not being believed or being unaware that SVM has occurred. Taking the step to disclose SVM takes courage, resilience and bravery and we will always listen to people who make disclosures and offer them support.

A further barrier is that an incident of SVM may have occurred in a situation whereby current government guidelines may not have been followed, such as social distancing etc. – please be assured, the University will not make a judgement on this and strongly encourages students to report SVM, regardless of the situation. 

The primary focus is about supporting our students.

Frequently asked questions

What is SVM?

SVM is defined by the University as any unwanted sexual act or activity, or series of acts or activities, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. It includes any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion or manipulation, such as sexual exploitation and sexual intimidation.

What does consent mean?

Consent is defined by section 74 Sexual Offences Act 2003. Someone consents to a sexual act only if s/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Consent to sexual activity may be given to one sort of sexual activity but not another, e.g.to penetration with conditions, such as wearing a condom. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs. Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault.

Is harassment and/or stalking classed as SVM?

Yes, SVM is not just rape or sexual assault. Stalking and harassment may include behaviours that cause you to fear that violence might be used against you and are both forms of SVM therefore are included within the SVM policy.

Should I report SVM if I witness it?

In the event of a third party (e.g. another student/a friend) disclosing an incident of SVM on behalf of someone else, this person will be advised about the options for reporting and available support and we will support this person to help the victim/survivor access this information.

Ultimately if the victim/survivor does not want to access support or make a report, this is their choice.

Students should report SVM using our online reporting tool, Speak Up, which has the option to report anonymously.

How do I report an incident of sexual violence and misconduct?

Students should report SVM using our online reporting tool, Speak Up, which has the option to report anonymously.

Once a report has been made, the reporting student (if they give their name) will be contacted within three working days by someone from Student Services.

If the reporting student wants to make a report but does not want any further action, such as an investigation, we will put into place support for the student. The primary focus will be to support the student so that they can carry on with their studies. The only instance we might take action without the reporting student’s consent is where there is a safeguarding or a ‘Fitness to Practise’ concern. 

If the student wishes, they may report the incident to the police, regardless of whether they want to report to the University. A decision not to report to the police does not prejudice any university response to a student report.

Will the other student be told that I have raised a complaint against them?

Consent is requested from any reporting student or witness before their statement/allegations are put to the responding student. So your name will not be disclosed to the responding student without your consent.

There may be times when a reporting student and/or witness gives consent to take a complaint forward but wishes to remain anonymous. This does not mean that the complaint won’t be taken forward as there may be instances where a piece of evidence is sufficient to take forward an anonymous complaint or witness statement, for example a screen shot of a group chat.

What if I don’t want to report an incident?

Ultimately if a victim/survivor does not want make a report, this is their choice. Disclosing an experience of SVM will likely be incredibly difficult. Barriers to disclosure include fear, shame, disbelief, denial, thinking they won’t be believed or being unaware that SVM has occurred. Taking the step to disclose SVM takes courage, resilience and bravery and we will always listen to people who make disclosures and offer them support.

A student can disclose SVM but not make a formal report. They may still access support from university services. A member of staff receiving a disclosure will not make a named report or instigate an onward referral without the student’s consent, except where concerns about safeguarding or ‘Fitness to Practise’ arise, in which cases members of staff may have a professional duty to make a formal report and the student will be made aware of this before action is taken.

What is a SARC?

A Sexual Assault Referral Centre, known as a SARC, is a place where anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted can go for specialist medical and forensic services. A rape or assault may leave visible or forensic evidence, and while preserving evidence may be the last thing on your mind in the aftermath of an attack, if you are able to go to a sexual assault referral centre (SARC), they should be able to provide specialist medical and forensic services free of charge for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted. You can find a SARC near you: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/help-after-rape-and-sexual-assault/

If you make a police report they will usually refer you to a SARC as it is important to preserve evidence as soon as possible after the incident however any evidence taken will be kept for two years and you are under no obligation to report to the University or make a formal report to the police if you visit a SARC.

Can the University still take action if the police are not taking the case forward?

If your assailant is a fellow student or staff member, you can report them to the University, since their conduct will be a breach of the student or staff code of conduct. Just because the police are not taking the case forward does not prejudice any University response to a student report. The University has the power to impose a range of sanctions on a student or staff member who has breached its code of conduct, including suspension, exclusion or dismissal, and campus access and contact restrictions. 

Some people feel strongly about reporting misconduct to their University, because they fear a repeat of the misconduct, either towards themselves or others, or because they want the incident formally acknowledged and some action taken.

Is there a time limit on making a report?

Experiencing SVM can be very harmful and students may not initially recognise this harm, or may need to wait some time before making a formal report. Because of this, there is no time limit within the university for making a report of SVM, and we encourage students to report (either anonymously or with their name), to help us keep other students and staff safe. It is important to note that some legal avenues open to victims/survivors do have time limits.

What support does the University offer?

The University of Plymouth offers a range of support services for students including:

  • Sexual Offences Support Drop-in: Confidential sexual assault support and advice is available through one-to-one discussion with Anni Parr, Sexual Offences Liaison Officer from Devon and Cornwall Police. To arrange an informal chat, please see the additional information on each of the available dates which can be found on our SharePoint.
  • Listening Post: in the moment listening from 10:00–16:00 Monday to Friday in the Student Hub, students can talk to a trained volunteer listener about whatever they are feeling, and receive warm and friendly support and advice.

What external support is available?

There are also a range of specialised external support services that anyone can access including:

  • Togetherall students don’t have to come and speak to our staff, they can access mental health support online by registering for free.
  • The University Medical Centre which has professionals available to support students, more information (including registration) is online or students can visit the Medical Centre (located in the Wellbeing Centre) on campus.
  • Devon and Cornwall Police offer Sexual Offences Drop-in advice from 18:00–20:00 throughout the academic year, find out the date of the next drop-in session via our SharePoint page.
  • First Light for anyone wanting to access support following domestic abuse or sexual violence.
  • Women’s Aid support for female victims/survivors of domestic abuse.
  • Survivors UK a charity dedicated to supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and rape.

The Good Consent Guide

Published by the Devon and Cornwall Police the Good Consent Guide tells you all you need to know about something that really matters.

Read the guide

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