Stalking & harassment and the wellbeing of students

Not long after arriving at York St John University (YSJU) as a Senior Lecturer, I volunteered to become a Student Harassment Advisor (SHA). Being a university student is not everyone’s choice or even an option for some. If the time is used well, then it is a period in your life that not only allows you to gain  a qualification, but helps you to become a person who is ready to step out into, what can sometimes feel like a very uncertain future. It is also the place where many people develop close and often lifelong relationships. What it can also be is a time of uncertainty. Many people feel a pressure to ‘fit in’ and do the things that are expected of them. This can create pressure when a student becomes involved in a relationship.

Law and policy around the area of student harassment is complex. The small group of SHAs undertook some joint agency training with the local police and then some work with the Head of Student Services at YSJU. Based on my knowledge and previous experience in policing, I was asked by Student Welfare to deliver a session on Harassment and Stalking legislation. When preparing for the session with a colleague, who until recently was a serving police officer, we looked at a range of legislation that could help students who are potential victims, or advise students who could end up being perpetrators. There was a lot of law, Protection from Harassment Act 1997, Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Public Order Act 1986 (s. 5, 4, 4A), plus amendments that brought in racial, religious and sexual orientation matters and then Breach of the Peace. On top of all that are theft related offences, criminal damage, sexual offences, domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour. The list went on and on and shows just how complex the law can being when dealing with issues that face students. We focused on Harassment, Stalking and Public Order law, using case studies and the experience of the audience in terms of issues they had dealt with.

Harassment comes up in various legislation and does not always mean the same thing. There is harassment under the Public Order Act, harassment under Anti-Social Behaviour legislation and harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act (PfHA). This helps define when harassment occurs and examples of behaviour. On top of that came Stalking. People have referred to someone stalking or being stalked for many years and the PfHA was brought in to cover such types of behaviour. Several cases really defined the serious nature of being stalked, Clare Bernal’s murder by Michel Pech in 2005, or Tracey Morgan stalked by Anthony Burstow from 1992 until he was jailed in 2001.

In respect of student welfare, I knew that other universities ran workshops or advised students about relationships. Much of this is often victim focused i.e. how to stay safe on a night out and so on. On Twitter, Victim Blaming (@EVB_Now), also on the website raises the issues well. They strongly criticised a retiring judge who had suggested that women who became very drunk made themselves vulnerable to attack. The victim in this case decided to remove her right to anonymity and came out supporting the judge’s comments.

I was recently discussing with some students the issue of what advice they received on developing and maintaining healthy relationships. None, was the unfortunate answer. I suggested that they raise the issue with the Students Union and took the matter to Senior Management. No sooner had we discussed this, I found out that the University were setting up a project with partner agencies to deliver this work and ensure students are supported. I look forward to seeing how the project develops and to a time when students feel comfortable not only in an educational context, but in their relationships with others.


Senior Lecturer in Policing Studies at York St John. Launched 3 Policing related degree programmes in September 2017. Preparing the University for the College of Policing's Police Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF). Over 30yrs in the police service working on the frontline, safer neighbourhoods and training/education. Developed and supported a number of national training initiatives around pre-join programmes. Interests in police organisational culture, gender issues and the study of inter-personal violence (domestic abuse).

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