SOAS University of London

Student Advice and Wellbeing

Personal Safety

Why this is important

Most information on personal safety focuses on the possible risk of robbery or assault from a stranger. You probably take informed precautions while travelling home late at night and avoid potential risks. Yet personal safety extends to many other day to day settings, where you may automatically feel more secure and therefore less alert to potential risks. This guidance is not about inhibiting friendships, but about ensuring that close relationships develop at a pace and within boundaries that are comfortable for you. 

Studying at university brings you into contact with a wide range of new acquaintances and you may feel part of a shared community. While you may be in close day to day contact with someone, you may actually know relatively little about them. It is important to remember that most people you meet at University will be trustworthy but just as in any other setting, some may not be trustworthy. So, just as you would not lend something of great value to someone you only know casually, it is as important you prize your own wellbeing, which is of much greater value.

Sexual assault

Many people do not realise that the most common kind of unwanted sexual contact (which may extend as far as rape) is between people who know one another, friends who may have chosen to go out together, or people who have met during the evening. Attacks by complete strangers account for less than 5% of recorded incidents. Anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation or other factors.

Feelings after any unwanted sexual contact can be confusing. It can be hard to believe or remember clearly what has happened. You may blame yourself, especially if you had been drinking or using drugs. When you know the person who assaulted you it can be particularly painful if they claim you consented or when you have to see the person regularly afterwards. Assault by an aquaintance can be particularly hard to prove as it can be one person’s word against the other, unless the police can gather additional evidence.

Taking care of yourself

Taking care of yourself does not mean not having a good time. You can have a good time and take simple measures to ensure that you and your friends end the day feeling great rather than unhappy.

It is worth remembering that not only can you be the “victim” of an assault, you can also be accused as assaulting someone: if one or both of you is too drunk or high to remember clearly what did or did not happen, then you could end up being accused. 

Why put yourself in that vulnerable position?

If you meet someone for the first time, or become more intimate with someone you’ve only known casually so far, before going further, ask yourself:

  • Do I know this person well enough to let them take me home?
  • Do I know this person well enough to let them stay over in my room?
  • Do I know this person well enough to go home with them? If you are still not sure, try asking yourself if you would be happy to let your closest friend be alone with this person?

Decide for yourself how quickly or slowly you want the intimacy to go and look out for the following:

  • Does the person get hostile when I say "No"?
  • Do they seem to ignore or belittle my wishes, opinions, ideas?
  • Or do they seem to be ‘over the top’ about me and flatter me unrealistically?
  • Do they seem to be in a hurry to be on their own with me?
  • Do they attempt to make me feel guilty or accuse me of being uptight when I refuse more alcohol, refuse to go home with them or say "no" to sex?
  • Do they act in a way that is excessively jealous or possessive?

With alcohol/drugs

Alcohol and many other drugs have a disinhibiting effect – it’s why many people drink and take drugs. Disinhibition can make it feel easier to socialise and reduce self consciousness. Taken to excess alcohol can also lead you to be wholly dependent on others, with your own judgement seriously compromised. Pace yourself, alternate soft drinks with alcohol and try to avoid mixing different types of alcoholic drinks. If you are out with friends, look out for each other and if one of your friends seems drunk or high, help make sure they can get home safely, just as you would want your friends to do for you.

Spiked drinks

Drink spiking is reported enough for it to be something worth taking steps against. Simple measures include:

  • Not letting anyone buy or pour you a drink without you seeing them do so
  • Not letting your drink out of your sight
  • Keeping a cap on any bottle you are drinking from (you can buy testing strips to check whether a drink has been spiked from Check Your Drink)
  • Ensuring you and your friends look out for each other

Respect for Others

  • If you are buying someone drinks with the intention of getting them drunk how fair are you being? How big is it to take advantage of someone in this way?
  • Someone flirting with you is not the same as asking for sex. Someone kissing or cuddling is not the same as wanting sex.
  • If you feel you are getting a mixed message about how far the person you are with wants to go, ask for clarification or wait until you know the message is clear. If the person says no at any time, believe them and STOP.
  • Having sex with someone whose ability to judge the situation and make a real choice is reduced, maybe because they are drunk, high or half asleep, is an assault and may well be considered to be rape because they were not capable of informed consent. You put yourself, your academic and professional career at risk by taking advantage of someone who is not in a position to consent fully. If you’ve been drinking or doing drugs, your own judgement may also be affected. Legally this is not a defence.
  • When you are out in a group, avoid peer pressure to ‘score’ and refuse to take part in group activities that are irresponsible, violent or criminal. Never use force in sexual situations.
  • If you see a friend or acquaintance in a difficult situation at a party or social event, help them get out of it. If you see someone pressurising another person, intervene. You may save them both from something they will later regret.

Sources of Guidance and Information

  • The Havens
    Places of safety and support for anyone (men, women, children) who have been raped or sexually assaulted
    Kings College Hospital Denmark Hill, St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, The Royal London Hospital Whitechapel
    24 hour appointment line: Consultations 9-5
  • The Sapphire Team (part of the Metropolitan Police)
  • Survivors UK (for self-defining men, non-binary people, and anyone who feels the service is right for them)
  • RASASC (for self-defining women and non-binary people)
Useful list of myths about rape
Information about drink spiking and drug rape