Bullying and Harassment

What can you do if you feel you have been a victim of bullying and/or harassment

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This information is provided by the
Student Support & Advice Team

What can you do if you feel you have been a victim of bullying and/or harassment

If you are considering making a complaint you can speak to specialist advisers in the Student Support and Advice Centre. To book a confidential telephone appointment please email: studentsupport@lincoln.ac.uk or telephone Student Support and Advice on 01522 837080.


There is no legal definition of bullying even though both bullying and harassment are contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

However, most people define bullying as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power. These behaviours can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. Power does not always mean being in a position of authority, but can include both personal strength and the power to coerce through fear or intimidation. This can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. It can also occur in written communications, by phone or through email, not just face-to-face.

Bullying can take the form of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct. Non-verbal conduct includes postings on social media. Bullying may include, by way of example:

  • shouting at, being sarcastic towards, ridiculing or demeaning others
  • repeatedly putting down a person or group of people in public or private
  • physical or psychological threats
  • overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision
  • criticising a person in an inappropriate manner or belittling them about their work, personality or appearance
  • inappropriate and/or derogatory remarks about someone’s performance
  • abuse of authority or power by those in positions of seniority
  • deliberately excluding someone from meetings or communications without good reason
  • creating or using web pages that identify and shame people
  • creating images altered to degrade people
  • sharing personal information to blackmail or harass someone.

Legitimate, reasonable and constructive criticism of performance or behaviour, or reasonable instructions will not amount to bullying on their own.

You can find more information on bullying by following this link: National Bullying Hotline

Harassment is unwanted behaviour from a group or individual which offends you, makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated. This could be abusive comments or jokes, graffiti or insulting gestures. Harassment is a crime under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and can happen on its own or alongside other forms of discrimination.

Harassment can also be a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts. If you’ve been treated badly, but it’s not unlawful discrimination there may be other things you can do.

Unwanted behaviour?

This could be:

  • unwanted physical conduct or ‘horseplay’, including touching, pinching, pushing, grabbing, brushing past someone, invading their personal space and more serious forms of physical or sexual assault
  • offensive or intimidating comments or gestures, or insensitive jokes or pranks
  • mocking, mimicking or belittling a person’s disability
  • racist, sexist, homophobic or ageist jokes, or derogatory or stereotypical remarks about a particular ethnic or religious group or gender
  • outing or threatening to out someone as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans
  • ignoring or shunning someone, for example, by deliberately excluding them from a conversation or a social activity.

You don’t need to have previously objected to something for it to be unwanted.


Harassment is unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 if it’s because of or connected to one of these areas:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or beliefs
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

The Equality Act calls these protected characteristics. Harassment because of one of these characteristics is called harassment related to a protected characteristic.

Harassment because you’re pregnant or you’ve recently given birth

If you experience harassment because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or you’ve recently given birth, this could be harassment related to sex.

What’s the effect of or the intention behind the harassment?

The Equality Act says it is harassment where the behaviour is meant to or has the effect of either:

  • violating your dignity
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

This means it is harassment even if the person harassing you didn’t mean to offend or intimidate you, as long as the harassment has one of the above effects.

If you go to court, the judge may have to decide if it is harassment or not. They will look at how the behaviour made you feel and whether it is reasonable for you to feel this way.

Examples of harassment related to a protected characteristic:

The harassment may be directed at you, but it can also be directed at someone else or even at no-one in particular. It may have to do with your or someone else’s protected characteristic. It may not have anything to do with you but you still find it offensive.

As long as it’s related to a protected characteristic, it can be harassment.


You’re a woman. Whenever you work out at your local gym the other male gym users tease you and make insulting comments– for example, that it’s better not talk to you right now as it must be your time of the month again. You could have a claim for harassment related to sex.


A bus driver is making racist comments about black people whilst driving. This isn’t addressed at anyone in particular, but it creates an intimidating and hostile environment for the passengers, including you, who are on the bus. You could bring a claim for harassment related to race even though you’re not black.


You go out for dinner with your lesbian mums to celebrate your birthday. Some of the restaurant staff make anti-gay comments to each other throughout the evening about your parents. The comments are loud enough for everyone to hear. You find the comments offensive and feel very distressed by the staff’s behaviour. You could have a claim for harassment related to sexual orientation.

Harassment because of a protected characteristic someone thinks you have

You can be harassed because of a protected characteristic that someone thinks you have, even though you don’t.


Whilst waiting to be served at a bar, you hear the staff make loud and insulting comments about your appearance, saying you’re a male to female transsexual. Despite the fact this isn’t true, you feel intimidated and upset by their remarks and decide to leave. This could be harassment related to gender reassignment.

Harassment because of a protected characteristic it’s known you don’t have

You can also be harassed about a protected characteristic that someone knows you don’t actually have.


At work, some of your colleagues keep making comments and jokes saying you’re gay. They call you names and have on occasion left things like gay adult movies and magazines on your desk. They all know you’re not actually gay. You could have claim for harassment related to sexual orientation.

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to harassment

If you’re treated badly or less favourably because of your reaction to harassment which is related to sex or gender reassignment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you either reject or submit to the harassment.

The person who treats you less favourably can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.

Sexual harassment

If someone behaves in a way which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or offended and the behaviour is of a sexual nature, this is called sexual harassment.

You can report sexual misconduct to the university by using this link: Sexual Misconduct Support



Harassment can also be identified as other crimes such as Domestic Violence.

Definition of Domestic Violence or domestic abuse.

The Crown Prosecution service define domestic abuse as:

Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, is defined across Government as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

If you have been intimate with or you are related to the person who is bullying/harassing you this could be domestic abuse.

You can find more information about domestic abuse from The West Lincolnshire Domestic Abuse Service

If you are being harassed because of a protected characteristic this may be a hate crime

The Crown Prosecution service defines a hate crime as;

The term ‘hate crime’ can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

These aspects of a person’s identity are known as ‘protected characteristics’. A hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property. The perpetrator can also be a friend, carer or acquaintance who exploits their relationship with the victim for financial gain or some other criminal purpose.

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