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What does Protection refer to?

Protection aims to ensure the safety and meet the needs of (potential) victims. This includes clear procedures and infrastructure within each institution for reporting, and supporting people who report gender-based violence, including victims, survivors, bystanders, whistle-blowers and intermediaries.

Protective measures should be designed to avoid (potential) victims and survivors suffering (further) harm, in the form of retaliation, social exclusion or otherwise. To this end, a victim-centred approach should be taken to all protective measures. While such protective measures are decided on a case-by-case basis, it is important for institutions to have a repository of possible measures when dealing with a specific case.

In the context of research performing organisations, such measures may include:

  • Provision of immediate safety, emergency accommodation and safe spaces for victims/survivors;
  • Listening to and supporting the victim/survivor and encourage her/him to get help
  • Provision of information about reporting options
  • Relocation (e.g. of dormitory or student house), change of e-mail account, classroom group, team or supervisor (in accordance with the needs expressed by the victim), to avoid direct contact with the (alleged) perpetrator
  • Protection against retaliation and dismissal for people who report
  • Assessment of risks of (continued) gender-based violence rooted in gender, cultural and/or social norms that support violence and harassment, to avoid (more) incidents
  • Specific training on gender-based violence for first responders

How to approach Protection?

Here you can find some practical guidance on how to design and implement protection processes and measures to avoid (potential) victims and survivors suffering (further) harm.

Protection measures should be activated:

  • for all types of harmful behaviours.
  • as soon as the institution is aware of a (potentially) harmful situation.
  • even if no formal complaint has been made, or in case of anonymous reporting.

Adequate protection should be considered and offered for any incident that occurs during activities or on premises that link the university with the victims/survivors, including:

  • on the organisation’s campus/premises (library, classrooms, car parks, walkways, sports facilities, etc.).
  • in online environments (e-mail, online working groups or meetings, social networks, learning platforms, etc.).
  • during a student event (e.g. in a student club bar or during a leisure trip organised by a student association).
  • away from campus, such as during conferences (for example, abroad while attending an international conference) and field research activities (such as for PhD students and mobile researchers).

Remember: Ideally, and whenever possible, the protective measures taken involve the relocation of the (alleged) perpetrator rather than the victim/survivor.

Who can provide protection?

Protection can be decided upon and provided by:

  • A specific contact point/person (for example, a designated person in each faculty for students).
  • A dedicated service, such as a human resources officer for staff.
  • An emergency warden or security officer providing immediate protection as first responder (for example, offering a safe space during a student event or another dormitory for the victim to be out of reach of the perpetrator).

Reporting systems and procedures

Effective reporting provisions must be in place, so that the institution can offer protection when needed. Reporting should be possible through different options:

  • In-person and online
  • Anonymous or not
  • Formal or informal
  • In different languages
  • Accessible 24 hours a day and seven days a week
  • Possibility to report to home institution (for mobile researchers and students studying abroad)

Anonymous and confidential reports

It is important to make the distinction between anonymous reports (whereby the complainant is unknown) and reports made by a person who wants their confidentiality to be guaranteed. In the latter case, the identity of the person is known to the organisation, but not disclosed to anyone. This creates limitations to what the institution can do in terms of case handling. For example, the possibilities for enquiry and investigation will be restricted. Make sure that reporting parties, staff and students alike, are aware that the institution has limited options when reports are anonymous or confidential.

In any case, there should be clear procedures for managing anonymous and confidential reports, including how to collect and store information, how to investigate and respond to the report, and how to maintain confidentiality throughout the process.

Anonymous and confidential complaints are still important sources of information. They can, especially when aggregated and analysed (by form of misconduct, place, time), help to identify patterns inside the institution, and to draw attention to potentially unsafe contexts and/or behaviours, which may trigger closer investigation and, if necessary, specific actions.

The institution can apply the practice of “active monitoring” and actively use the information collected to identify risk factors.

Institutions should actively and clearly publicise their reporting channels to ensure that they are known by the whole community (see also Prevention and Provision of Services).

Read more about reporting provisions here.

Examples of reporting options

Formal reporting options:

  • Reporting for students and other people without an employment contract: Students and people without an employment contract with the institution could officially submit a report either face-to-face or online to designated institutional services. These could include an ombudsperson, a dedicated office for gender-based violence, student counsellors, medical services and student unions.
  • Reporting for staff and faculty: Staff and faculty members could officially submit a report either face-to-face or online to designated institutional services. These services could either fall under the human resources department or/and be part of dedicated services/offices for gender-based violence, counsellors, legal department.

Informal reporting options:

  • Face-to-face reporting to a confidential resource person: Confidential resource persons could be gender equality officers, student counsellors, human resources counsellors, trade unions, student unions, etc. Training must be ensured for these confidential resource persons.
  • Online or telephone-based systems for reporting to a third party: Informal reporting, possibly to a third party, by phone or online, can allow individuals to report problems without revealing their identity.
  • The institution can appoint trained experts, lawyers, or psychologists as trusted persons to handle informal complaints of gender-based violence. These individuals may be independent of the institution but should have expertise in dealing with complaints.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment aims to understand the situation and risks, so that the necessary (precautionary) measures can be activated to prevent (further) harm. Risk assessments can be implemented regularly to monitor campus safety perceptions, when certain events are to be organised, but should also happen upon reception of a complaint. Such a case-based risk assessment will aim to safeguard the individuals involved in the case and requires fast action.

Any type of incidents reported (including informal and anonymous reports) should support the assessment of factors that increase the likelihood of violence and harassment, and help identify and document the location and circumstances under which gender-based violence may occur. This assessment will help the institution decide what type of prevention actions are needed and which support measures can be offered to the victim(s). For example, based on incident reports, a tailored and targeted awareness-raising initiative can be launched, focusing on highlighting the policies established at the institution.

In addition, for the protection of individuals, whether they file an informal or a formal complaint, it is good practice to ask the person in question what they need and expect from the institution. Any action taken to protect the person should be based on their needs. A few examples of (precautionary) measures to protect students are to offer the option of transfer to another class, attendance at online classes or changing supervisor.


All possible contact persons, whether specifically designated to deal with gender-based violence or to act in emergencies as first responders (e.g. security personnel), should receive specific training. Such specific training should be mandatory and include:

  • An understanding of the different forms of violence and their continuum.
  • What constitutes ‘trauma-informed care’, to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Active listening and empathy, without judging victims/survivors.
  • Understanding the necessity to empower victims/survivors to make their own choices and decisions.
  • Knowledge of legal, health and other types of support pathways available to victims both internally (see Provision of Services) and externally (see Partnerships).

Tips and Hints / Dos and Don'ts

  • Have procedures that allow for a quick response and give victims/survivors a sense of safety and protection, which reduces their fear of reprisal. Act before escalation of improper behaviours.
  • Ensure people who step forward to report negative experiences are listened to and supported; their experiences should not be ignored, minimised or downplayed.
  • Respect the agency of victims/survivors and do not take any action against their will;
  • Ensure that the report filed by victims/survivors is properly recorded in order to avoid re-traumatisation caused by victims/survivors having to recount their traumatic experience multiple times/to different people.
  • Avoid procedures that require the manager or supervisor to be contacted first as this can make it difficult for a victim/survivor to report or seek support.
  • Avoid “warnings” in spaces for reporting incidents, that false allegations are punishable under criminal law as the effect of such explicit mention may be dissuasive and make victims fearful of reportin.
  • Avoid prioritising the rights of the (alleged) offender over the protection of the victim/survivor.
  • Encourage reporting by providing complete information on possible sanctions against perpetrators to give a clear signal of the importance and value of reporting all incidents.
  • Foresee emergency funding to allow travelling back home, in case problems occur during field trips and conferences.
  • Provide the possibility for doctoral students to change supervisors. Consider how funding of PhD trajectories can be tied to the student and not to the promoter.
  • Consider collecting information on patterns of misbehaviour via course evaluation forms and always ensure anonymity so that students are not identifiable.
  • For online violence (social networks, online teaching, e-mail, etc), systems should be in place to flag incidents and get support.
  • Clearly display in central locations (in situ and online) information about institutional (emergency) support services, as well as local or national counselling and helplines. You may find lists of such services per country here.

Thinking intersectionally about Protection

  • Consider how protection measures can be made responsive to intersectional violence, meeting the needs of people who experience multiple and combined forms of discrimination.
  • Ensure that risk assessments consider multiple and intersecting inequalities and the risks faced by LGBTQIA+ staff and students.
  • Offer training to contacts/services on how to provide culturally responsive and respectful services (see Intersectionality under Provision of Services).
  • It is good practice to have contact/trust persons from diverse groups (in terms of gender, background, origin, etc.).

Inspiring practices

Report and Support, United Kingdom

In British universities, “Report and Support” provides the possibility for staff, students, and visitors to report a concern, and choose to do so anonymously, or to give their name to receive follow-up support. The site gives advice on definitions and pathways to support, reassurance about confidentiality, and data protection and advice. Links to “Report and Support” have also been distributed via student websites. These activities directly address online, sexual, and physical violence and harassment.

Solidarity Network of Victims of Gender Violence in Universities, Spain

A network of peer victim support has been set up by students who are victims of gender-based violence in Spanish universities. Recognising the prevalence of sexual harassment and the limitations of institutional measures alone, this website offers a platform with additional support to those affected by gender-based violence. This network offers solidarity and a safe space for victims/survivors by providing a listening ear and accompanying them through their experiences.

Combat Harassment Tool (CHAT) – KU Leuven, Belgium

CHAT is an online risk assessment and monitoring screening tool. Via the user portal, the organisation can share a concise questionnaire with (a group of) employees. They complete it anonymously. The report then gives insight into the bottlenecks and helps the organisation to map its social climate, assess and address risks. CHAT thus forms the basis for dialogue (a ‘chat’) on cross-border behaviour as a step towards an action plan.

Guide for first responders – Central European University, Austria

The Central European University has developed an official document which serves as a guide for first responders in handling emergency situations related to sexual assault, other types of assault and sexual harassment. The guide provides a three-step approach, first to establish immediate safety (step 1), then to listen and be supportive (step 2) and to facilitate access to services (step 3). The guide provides specific instructions for first responders to handle these incidents effectively and sensitively ensuring the well-being and safety of the individuals involved.

Speak Out – Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education (PCHEI), Ireland

Speak Out is an online, anonymous reporting tool to disclose incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, discrimination, hate crime, coercive behaviour/control, stalking, assault, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. This tool helps find relevant support and highlights formal reporting options within the university and with external agencies. Developed for Ireland’s higher education sector, it is led by the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) and is supported by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in Ireland and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science. Speak Out is available to all participating institutions’ staff, students, and visitors. These include (as of October 2023) ATU, DCU, DkIT, IADT, MU, MTU, NCAD, NCI, University of Galway, RCSI, SETU, TCD, TU Dublin, TUS, UCC and UL. UCD provides a bespoke anonymous online reporting tool called Report and Support. Speak Out can be accessed via each participating institution’s website. Some examples include the Technological University of Dublin, here and the University of Galway.

Resources and further reading

Briefing Note ‘Precautionary Measures on Receiving a Report of Staff Sexual Misconduct, Bullying, or Discrimination’ by the 1752 Group and McAllister Olivarius

The ‘Sector Guidance to Address Staff Sexual Misconduct in UK Higher Education,’ developed by the 1752 Group and McAllister Olivarius, includes a set of briefing notes, which are available here. Specifically, Briefing Note 3 focuses on ‘Precautionary Measures on Receiving a Report of Staff Sexual Misconduct, Bullying, or Discrimination.’ This note details essential precautionary and confidentiality measures to be implemented when formally proceeding with a report of staff sexual misconduct. These measures are designed to protect the reporting individuals from potential victimisation by the accused party or other negative consequences stemming from their report. Explore further.