Skip to main content

Sexual harassment

If you are being sexually harassed this may be sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This page defines sexual harassment and the measures you can take to address this behaviour.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour which compromises your dignity and makes you feel offended, humiliated, intimidated or threatened. Sexual harassment may be verbal, non-verbal or physical. It can range from rude remarks about your appearance to violence and assault, and can include:

  • sexual innuendoes
  • indecent or offensive remarks or jokes
  • questions or comments about your sex life
  • demands for sexual favours
  • being leered or stared at
  • the display of sexually explicit material (for example, in an office)
  • unwanted physical contact, such as brushing up against you or pinching you
  • flashing
  • stalking
  • sexual assault
  • rape.

Although most victims of sexual harassment are women, harassed by men, men can also be harassed by women. Lesbian and gay people may also find themselves harassed or bullied by people of either sex - the page on harassment due to sexual orientation and gender identity has more information.

How do I deal with sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power. Many people are reluctant to complain about it, because they are afraid of making the situation worse, and possibly losing their job, home or friends as a result. They may feel that it's just part of life, and must be tolerated. Often they'll be told to 'lighten up' and asked 'where's your sense of humour?'

However, no one should have to put up with sexual harassment. If you are made to feel uncomfortable by the sexual comments or conduct of your landlord, a neighbour or anyone else, there are things you can do to put a stop to it.

Talking to the person who's been harassing you

Provided you feel it's safe to do so, your first step should be to confront the person who's harassing you and make it clear that you find their behaviour unwelcome and inappropriate. People of different ages, cultures or backgrounds have different standards, and it's possible they don't realise how their conduct is affecting you.

Don't try and make light of it and don't apologise for bringing the subject up. You may want to ask a friend or family member, or someone else who has been affected by the person's behaviour to come with you. If you can't face confronting them in person, you could write a letter instead - keep a copy if you do.

Taking further action

If tackling the issue directly doesn't work or you don't feel safe confronting the person, you may be able to take further action. At this point, it's a good idea to discuss your options with an adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau, or get legal advice from a solicitor.

However you choose to deal with the situation, it will help if you collect evidence to back up your claims, for example by:

  • recording details of any incidents that take place in a diary
  • keeping any notes, letters, texts or emails sent to you
  • talking to other people (for example, other neighbours or tenants) who may have been affected by the person's behaviour.

The page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has more information on how to do this, and also has practical advice on confronting people who are upsetting you.

What if my landlord, letting agent or mortgage lender is sexually harassing me?

If you are harassed by your landlord or by anyone working for them, by a letting agent, estate agent, mortgage lender or any other service provider, you could consider:

What if a neighbour is sexually harassing me?

In this case, you won't be able to take action under the Equality Act, because it doesn't apply to private situations such as neighbour disputes. However, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to:

What if a council or a housing association employee is sexually harassing me?

If an employee of the council or a housing association is sexually harassing you (for example, someone carrying out repairs to your home) you could consider:

How do I make a formal complaint or take legal action under the Equality Act?

It's against the law for a service provider to sexually harass anyone who uses their services. This specifically includes landlords, so if a landlord harasses you when you apply for a property or subjects you to harassment while you're living there, you can make a formal complaint and/or take them to court using the Equality Act.

Read the page on dealing with discrimination to find out more about taking action under the Equality Act.

How can the council help me?

Harassment and antisocial behaviour

Harassment is a form of antisocial behaviour, so if you are being harassed by a neighbour or anyone else in your area, you may be able to get help from the council. The council may be able to use antisocial behaviour laws to bring the harassment to an end. For example, they may be able to take out an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) against the person or people who are harassing you. The section on antisocial behaviour explains how this may help.

Help for council and registered local landlord (RSL) tenants

If you rent your home from the council or an RSL (a housing association or housing co-op) and are being harassed by other council or RSL tenants, you should report the situation to your landlord. The council or RSL will have policies in place to help put a stop to the harassment. For example, they may:

  • help you increase security around your home
  • put right any damage (for example, remove graffiti) immediately
  • confront the person who's been harassing you (with your permission)
  • in extreme circumstances, evict the person who's been harassing you.

Your council's website should have more information on this.

How can the police help me?

Sexual assault and violence are crimes. If you are sexually assaulted, you can report the incident to the police. If you are worried about whether or not to go to the police, or you need help or support to do so, get in touch with your local rape crisis centre. They can provide you with information and talk about how you are feeling, and will support you in whatever you feel is right for you. Visit the Rape Crisis Scotland website to find out more.

Can I get compensation?

If you have been injured as a result of violent crime, you may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) - visit their website to find out more.

What legal action can I take?

If the police are unable to charge the person with a crime, you may be able to take action in the sheriff court, to keep the person away from you and prevent them from harassing you further. There are two court orders you can consider applying for:

  • a non-harassment order
  • an interdict.

Non-harassment orders

A non-harassment order bans the person who's been harassing you from behaving in a certain way (for example, making nuisance phone calls or stalking you). If they continue to behave in this way, they will be committing a criminal offence and the police will be able to arrest them.

The behaviour you want to prevent must have taken place at least twice before you can raise an action for harassment. This may be behaviour which is not in itself unlawful or abusive, but which is making you feel distressed or afraid. For example, you may be able to take out a non-harassment order to prevent an abusive neighbour from shouting offensive comments at you in the street.

You can find out more about non-harassment orders here.

Interdicts

An interdict is a civil court order that tells a person not to do something or to stay away from you, your children or a specific place, such as your home. If a person doesn't stick to an interdict, the police might be able to arrest them if the interdict gives them the power to do so. You can read more about interdicts here.

Can I get compensation?

If you have suffered loss as a result of the harassment (for example, if your property has been damaged or you have been forced to take time off work and have lost earnings), you may be able to raise a claim for damages - your solicitor will be able to tell you more about this.

Where can I get help to take legal action?

Before taking any action, you'll need to get legal advice from a solicitor. A solicitor can tell you whether or not your application is likely to be successful, and can apply for a non-harassment order or interdict on your behalf.

Solicitors are entitled to charge a fee for the advice they give you and any work they do on your behalf, so remember to ask how much it will cost when you phone to make an appointment. If you receive benefits or are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with court costs. You may be able to get a free initial interview with a solicitor through a Citizens Advice Bureau or law centre.

What if I have to move away?

If the situation is unbearable, you may wish to leave the area altogether. If you rent from the council or a housing association, you can apply for a transfer to a new area. You should get priority on the waiting list if you need to move because of harassment or fear of violence but unfortunately, due to housing shortages, you may have to wait a while before you're offered a home.

The section on finding a place to live has more information on your housing options.

Remember, if you currently rent your home, you must end your tenancy properly before you move. If you need to move before your tenancy ends, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes to cover your notice period.

If you have nowhere safe and permanent to go, you can make a homeless application to your local council. The council should offer you somewhere temporary to stay while they look into your situation. If you have had to leave your home due to harassment or fear of violence, you should be classed as being unintentionally homeless, which means the council should offer you a permanent home.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're in England

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us