Sexual discrimination, harassment and assault
Sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and assault have no place at our university – neither in the traditional classroom or lab setting nor on remote or online learning platforms.
The Gender Equality Office is actively working to combat (sexual) discrimination, harassment and assault. The gender equality officer provides support and counselling services to anyone affected.
'Sexual discrimination and assault are as common in German universities – places of work and study – as they are in public and domestic spaces. A survey conducted by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS) showed that every second person surveyed has experienced harassment in the workplace and every sixth woman and every fourteenth man explicitly designated their experience as "sexual harassment".'1
Sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault can take many forms, including verbal, nonverbal and/or physical aggression. According to Section 3(4) of Germany's General Anti-Discrimination Act (AGG), sexual harassment is understood to mean any unwanted behaviour or conduct that is offensive, humiliating and that is experienced as derogatory and demeaning.
The Federal Association of Women's Representatives and Gender Equality Officers in Higher Education (bukof) plays a central role in policy discussions concerning gender equity issues in the academic and higher education landscape.
On 18 April 2023, bukof published recommendations for dealing with sexual discrimination, harassment and assault at higher education institutions specializing in music or the arts.
1 Source: bukof
What to do if you experience sexual discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Sexual harassment is currently defined in Section 3(4) of Germany's General Anti-Discrimination Act (AGG) as a form of discrimination when 'unwantedconduct of a sexual nature, including unwanted sexual acts and requests to carry out such acts, physical contact of a sexual nature, comments of a sexual nature or the unwanted exposure to or public display of pornographic images, is carried out with the aim or effect of violating the dignity of the person concerned, in particular when such conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.'
Examples of sexual harassment:
- Unwanted physical contact
- Suggestive and defamatory remarks
- Obscene jokes and humiliating remarks
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Displaying or passing around photographs or drawings that show persons with little or no clothing or that depict sexual content
- Requests for sexual favours or acts
Sexual discrimination is understood to mean treating someone unfavourably because of that person's gender. Sexual assault refers to acts such as physical threats, coercion and rape.
Sexual assault may result in criminal prosecution.
The German Criminal Code (StGB) states in Section 238(1) that unauthorized, persistent stalking is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine. Subsections 1 to 5 further define stalking as: 1. Seeking proximity; 2. Trying to establish contact through the use of telecommunications or other means of communication; 3. Placing orders for goods or services by misusing personal data; 4. Threats to the victim's life, physical safety, health or freedom; and 5. Carrying out a similar or comparable action.
Examples of stalking include:
- Unwanted phone calls
- Leaving messages over the internet, by email, mobile phone or voicemail
- Surveillance or observation of a particular person
- Unauthorized recording of audio or visual material
- Loitering with intent to intimidate in lecture halls, seminar rooms, student accommodation or in other locations
- Pursuing or approaching another person, repeated attempts to contact them
- Unwanted gifts or ordering the delivery of goods to the victim.
Victims of stalking are subjected to persistent, unwanted and unacceptable observation, obsessive following or invasive harassment that severely diminishes their quality of life. They are afraid, feel powerless or become desperate or increasingly suspicious of others. Stalking can also result in psychological problems and can have a long-term impact on the victim's life.
It is therefore important that victims of stalking act at the earliest possible opportunity and deal robustly to defend themselves against the perpetrator.
Stalking can be prosecuted under German civil and criminal law.
Unwanted sexual, discriminatory and degrading acts have far-reaching consequences for those affected. Victims can be affected both physically and emotionally and their motivation and performance in their studies, work and private life can be seriously impaired. If you have been affected, it is crucial that you respond appropriately and that you try to establish boundaries. We recommend that victims of sexual harassment or stalking seek advice and support from trusted individuals or from the appropriate counselling services.
Some people respond to sexual harassment or stalking by choosing not to react. However, passive responses such as ignoring unwanted advances, avoiding the harasser or stalker or trying to make light of the situation are rarely successful. You have a far greater chance of stopping further harassment if you take action directly.
I. Establish boundaries immediately
Start by actively establishing boundaries using unambiguous language. This will make it clear that the other person’s conduct is unwanted and will not be tolerated. A loud and clear ''Stop harassing me!' or 'Don’t do that!' brings the situation out into the open and establishes a clear boundary.
Examples of things that you can say to the perpetrator:
- 'Stop harassing me!'
- 'Don't do that!’
- 'Don't touch me!’
It is also worthwhile making clear to the stalker or harasser, either in writing or in the presence of witnesses that you do not want any further contact. If possible, you should avoid any further contact, whether in person or by email, telephone, etc. This should be your first and only personal response. You can also contact the police directly. You should also document the incident in writing immediately after it has occurred:
- Date, time, place
- Name of the perpetrator
- Details of the incident
- Names of potential witnesses
- Evidence (e.g. letters, emails)
II. Tell somebody you trust
It is helpful to seek advice and to talk to someone you trust. This could be your partner, a friend, a fellow student, colleague or relative. Talking to someone can help you to understand your situation more clearly, reclaim a sense of control and self-confidence and think about further action.
III. Seek help from an official body
The General Student Committee (AStA) offers a safe space for confidential support and can provide you with information on other counselling and support services if necessary.
Other counselling services offered at Saarland University include the university's gender equality officer and the Mental Health Counselling Service (PPB) run by Saarland Student Services (Studierendenwerk). Consultations are confidential and free of charge. After you have given an account of the details of the incident, you can discuss with the counsellor your options for taking matters further and agree on the next steps to take. You are welcome bring a person you trust with you to the consultation.
Studierendenwerk Saarland (Saarland Student Services), the General Student Committee (AStA) and the Gender Equality Office at Saarland University expressly oppose sexual harassment and sexual abuse, particularly any sexualized, discriminatory and degrading behaviour or acts.
Common forms of sexualized, discriminatory and degrading acts and behaviour are:
Treating a person less favourably or unfairly because of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Verbal and physical assault
Coercion and rape*
* Adapted from: Recommendation of the 24th General Assembly of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) on 24 April 2018 in Mannheim: Against sexual discrimination and sexual harassment at universities
The university is responsible for creating a university culture that values trust, mutual respect and fairness. At Saarland University we want to build a culture that encourages university members to be active bystanders who stand up for the rights of others. We want to lay the foundation for a positive, non-violent study and work environment in which bullying, discrimination, stalking, sexual harassment and precursor behaviour, such as transgressive behaviour and aggression, do not arise or are not tolerated.
Saarland University's Gender Equality Plan (Official Bulletin of the Institutions of Higher Education in Saarland (Dienstblatt) No. 51/2021/p. 420)
- Exclusion from a course or other teaching activity
- Exclusion from using university facilities
- Withdrawal of IT access authorizations
- Ban from entering university premises
House rules and right of access
According to the house rules issued by Studierendenwerk Saarland (Saarland Student Services), every person in a location where these rules apply (in particular student halls of residence) must behave in a manner that does not compromise order, safety or security. The Studierendenwerk maintains order at its premises and enforces its rules governing right of access. It has the right to remove any individuals from its premises who behave in a disorderly manner or disturb the peace.
For further information, please contact the Studierendenwerk directly at info(at)stw-saarland.de
Reporting a crime
Criminal behaviour can be reported at any police station. Local police stations:
Polizeiinspektion St. Johann, Saarbrücken
Phone: +49 681 932-1233
Phone: +49 6841 1060
University support services
Gender Equality Officer
Gender Equality Office
Saarbrücken Campus, Building C3 1 (Annex)
Phone: +49 681 302-4795
External advice centres
Crisis Hotline 'Frauennotruf Saarland' (Support and counselling hotline for women affected by rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other forms of harassment)
Phone: +49 681 36767
Confidential help for victims of sexual violence
Confidential forensic medical examinations
Phone: +49 681 844944
Weißer Ring – Saarland Regional Office (Weißer Ring is a German voluntary organization providing nationwide support to victims of crime)
Phone: +49 681 67319
Telephone helpline 'Gewalt gegen Frauen' (national support and counselling hotline for women affected by violence)
Phone: 116 016 (service available in multiple languages)
Police crime prevention and victim support service (Polizeiliche Kriminalprävention und Opferschutz)
Phone: +49 681 962-0