Sexual harassment tops list of risks for female students on nights out

Date Published

7th September 2016



  • 54% of 18-24 year old female students experienced sexual harassment
  • Drinkaware and UNILAD call on young people to ‘call-out’ incidents of sexual harassment on nights out, using #GropeFreeNights
  • 60% of students say they really enjoy going out to get drunk
  • Vomiting, passing out and needing hospital treatment feature in the line-up

Getting in a fight, a regrettable one night stand or passing out in public – were all named as negative experiences that spoil a good night. But unreleased ICM research, carried out for the alcohol education charity Drinkaware, now reveals sexual harassment tops the list as the most common incident for female students on a night out.

In a survey of over 2,000 students across the UK, three quarters of those aged 18-24 admitted to having experienced one or more of the following on a night out over a 12 month period: inappropriate sexual touching, comments or abuse; vomiting; having an accident; a regrettable sexual encounter or experiencing uncertainty around one; passing out in public; involvement in a fight, or needing hospitalisation.

Troublingly, more than half (54%) of 18-24 year-old female students experienced sexual harassment (inappropriate touching, comments or abuse) on nights out. Among these women, half (51%) confirmed this is something they experience most or every time they go out, and only one in seven (14%) were surprised to be at the receiving end of it. It’s not just women, almost one in seven (15%) male students experience inappropriate or unwanted sexual comments and touching on a night out.

Despite the increasing trend of moderate drinking among students, the list of risks associated with a night out is announced alongside data revealing that 57% of students say they really enjoy going out to get drunk, with over a third of students (37%) going out twice or more a week.

As students across the country gear up for Fresher’s Week, Drinkaware has teamed up with UNILAD to address the normalisation of sexual harassment amongst young people on nights out.

Drinkaware and UNILAD are calling on young people to shout out against sexual harassment on social media, using #GropeFreeNights, in order to shine a spotlight on the issue. The goal is to provoke debate and empower young people to reject the permissive culture around sexual harassment on nights out. In order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Drinkaware is also urging students on nights out to stay safe, know their limits and look out for drunk friends.

Kate*, recent graduate (2016), says:

"On the final night of Fresher's Week, me and my friends were all at a club. We were all having a good time and some of the boys decided that they wanted to rip their own shirts off for a laugh. I was dancing near them and they abruptly decided that it would be a laugh to rip my shirt in half too so I was, essentially, wearing a skirt and a bra in the club. I was extremely uncomfortable and went to the bathroom to try and fashion some way to cover myself up by tying my ripped shirt together. Thankfully, one of the Fresher's reps saw what happened and gave me his shirt to cover myself with.

There is a real undercurrent of sexual harassment at university and I've experienced a lot of catcalling in my university town too. Women get harassed by people they know too, which has happened to me - I once had to throw a friend out of my house because he kept harassing me for sex. That incident happened in my third year and I was really angry about it, but if I was still a Fresher in my first year I would have been less confident and I wouldn't have known what to do."

Ben Butler, Marketing and Communications Director at alcohol education charity Drinkaware says:

“We’re excited to be working with UNILAD, as the largest platform engaging 18-24-year-olds both male and female, no one understands young people better, what makes them tick and how best to reach them. Together we want to disrupt the normalisation of sexual harassment on nights out.

“Young people shouldn’t have to put up with sexual harassment as part of a night out. Touching another person in a sexual way without their consent is legally defined as sexual assault. We hope that through sharing their own experiences young people will think twice about what behavior is acceptable on nights out.”

Chief Executive of UNILAD, Liam Harrington, says:

“We’re partnering with Drinkaware to encourage more people to take part in the conversation around sexual harassment, and give victims the confidence to share their stories.

We want our audience to consider whether they would still behave in the same way towards someone if they were sober. Drinking stops you thinking as clearly about social situations, including sexual harassment, and things your sober self would never consider all of a sudden seem a laugh or a good idea.

With the majority of our audience being 18-35, and with 26 million followers across social media, we believe we’re in a pretty good position to share important information about the dangers of binge drinking.”

To support young people Drinkaware has introduced a team of specially trained staff, Drinkaware Crew, in four university towns across the country. By the end of the year, the scheme will be rolled out across the UK. The aim is to reduce negative experiences related to drunkenness – including anti-social behaviour and sexual harassment. The team work in bars and clubs to promote a positive social atmosphere, support those who might be vulnerable as a result of drinking too much, and ensure young people get home safely.

Join the conversation at #GropeFreeNights.

For more information about Drinkaware’s ‘You wouldn’t sober, you shouldn’t drunk’ campaign visit

*name has been changed

Download the ICM survey results


  • ICM interviewed 2,004 students between the 30 July and 12 August 2015  online

Experiences on night out

All students


Female students (1,087)

Male students


Sexual harassment (inappropriate touching, comments or abuse)




Physically sick due to alcohol




Had an accident and hurt yourself




Had a sexual encounter you regretted the next day




Passed out in a public place




Involved in a fight




Unsure whether you had sex




Needed to go hospital because you drank too much




  • Drinkaware’s Drunken Nights Out programme is underpinned by a strategic review, ‘Drunken Nights Out: motivations, norms and rituals in the night-time economy’. More information available here: Further details can be found at:
  • From September, we’ll be live in four towns working directly with universities – Cardiff, Swansea, Pontypridd and Plymouth. It follows a successful pilot in November last year. That included five areas in South West England: Cheltenham, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and Torbay – in addition to Nottingham.

Further quotes:

Elizabeth, third year student at Norwich University, says: “Once, some friends and I were at a big club in Norwich and when we tried to leave we were blocked by this group of guys. They were commenting on our bodies, saying really offensive things and we couldn’t get past them. We felt really trapped and uncomfortable but we didn’t want to cause any trouble. We all felt really upset after that – no-one wants to be talked to that way, especially when you feel like you can’t escape.

“Sexual harassment is so common at university – it’s got to the point now where you just expect it on a night out. Being touched by someone you don’t know is not a nice situation to be in but I kind of just accept it. I don’t think people talk about sexual harassment at university enough – there seems to be this illusion that people who sexually harass others aren’t really doing anything wrong.”

Jake, student at Newcastle University, says: “There is a lot of groping on nights out at university. I’m gay so I go to gay clubs much more than I go to straight clubs, but I have seen sexual harassment in straight clubs too, with random girls just starting to twerk or grind on you. It doesn’t matter where you go in the club; you can pretty much always expect to be groped. I’ve even been grabbed by guys in the bathroom. It happens every night I go out – it’s almost run of the mill now which isn’t right. I think people feel more ‘free’ when they’re drunk on nights out and they’re more likely to feel like they can pressure you into something you don’t want to do.”