Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. [1, p. 22]. Sexual harassment includes sexual coercion, unwelcome sexual attention and sexist behaviour (use of gender stereotypes) [2, p. 11], [3]. In the academic setting it may occur between students, between teachers, by teachers toward students and by students toward teachers.

Sexual harassment may assume various forms in the university environment, such as [2, p. 11–15], [4]:

  • repeated unwanted sexual advances,
  • demanding sexual conduct for a countervalue (e.g. better conditions at an exam),
  • inappropriate comments of an individual or a group based on sex, gender or sexuality,
  • unwanted e-mails, photographs or messages of a sexual nature,
  • inappropriate sex jokes and obscene gestures,
  • exposing breasts, genitals or buttocks in a public context,
  • rape or attempted rape,
  • unwelcome touching.

The consequences of sexual harassment of victims include [1, p. 21], [2, p. 9]:

  • fear, anxiety, shame, anger,
  • reduced productivity,
  • high absenteeism,
  • low self-esteem,
  • reduced performance,
  • avoiding teachers,
  • early termination of studies,
  • transfer of the experience to future life.

Each member of the academic community contributes to the creation of safe, respectful and dignified environment free of sexual harassment. Masaryk University shall not tolerate any forms of sexual harassment. The rights of students and teachers at the university are observed; safe and decent context for development and cooperation is fostered. In the event that a sexual harassment case is detected at the university, the victims are provided support and help in its resolution.

What to do if you are a victim of sexual harassment

About 78 % of students have experienced some form of sexual harassment [5]. For various reasons it is often difficult to actively defend yourself – the sexual assault often surprises and paralyses the victim. Moreover, if the victim is in a subordinate or dependent position (e.g. at an exam), she or he fears to protest. Another possible obstacle may be the victim’s concern of being labelled as “over-sensitive”.

 If it happens that you are sexually harassed, we want to ensure you that:

  • Your feelings are legitimate. Everyone has different boundaries. What is considered a joke by someone may be unpleasant or hurting for someone else. It is you who sets the boundaries of what you feel comfortable with.
  • It is not your fault. When a person makes humiliating or sexist comments, improper proposals or physical assaults, it is never your fault. The responsibility always lies with the instigator.
  • You are not alone in this. Sexual harassment represents an extreme mental load for its victim. There are a lot of people at the university and elsewhere who will help you to deal with the experience.
    • You can ask someone close to you or seek professional advice.
    • You can call the organization Modrá linka, who operate a helpline, or Persefona, who specialise in issues connected with domestic and sexual violence.
    • You can get in touch with the Psychological Counselling at the university.
  • It is not your duty to report the case.

If it happens that you have been a victim of sexual harassment and you wish to tackle the situation:

  • If possible, say NO. It is often difficult to express your disagreement, especially if there is a power imbalance. Therefore, if you do not say no, it cannot be automatically understood as a consent. It is useful to let the other person know that your boundaries have been transgressed, but if you cannot do it, do not blame yourself. It is not your duty to defend yourself; it is everyone’s duty not to commit sexual misconduct.
  • Collect evidence. Keep the correspondence with the perpetrator, if any.
  • If you become a victim of sexual abuse, you can report it to the police. In case you decide to do so, we recommend first getting in touch with Persefona, who will provide the necessary assistance and one of their staff may accompany you to the police station.

What to do if you witness sexual harassment or a if victim confides in you

If you witness a situation which you consider sexual harassment:

  • Ask the person whom you think a victim whether she/he feels comfortable or whether she/he needs your help.
  • Express disapproval of the situation. It is usually difficult for the victim to oppose harassment. Therefore, it helps if you take a stand even if you are not directly affected by the situation. The victim will know she/he is not alone to defend their rights. This does not apply just to sexual harassment. For instance, when a teacher makes jokes demeaning minorities it is good to express disapproval as a member of the majority; when a teacher humiliates women in class, disagreement should be voiced also by a male student (and vice versa).
  • In case it is difficult to express disapproval or ask the victim during the incident, try to approach her/him later (after the class, exam etc.) and make sure they do not need help.

In case someone confided in you about being the victim of sexual harassment:

  • Assure the person that you believe them and that you appreciate they trust
  • Emphasize that the person is not guilty.
  • Bear in mind that each person responds differently. While someone is able to give a rational account of events, someone else may be paralysed.
  • Ask the person whether she/he wants any help. You can offer them various possibilities to tackle the situation as mentioned above.
  • Suppress your curiosity. It may be beneficial to speak about the experience for some people, whereas it may be a trauma for others since they are forced to relive the situation.
  • Do not push them. A victim of sexual harassment is not obliged to deal with the situation or report it. She/he experienced a demanding experience that violated their personal integrity. Try to formulate your suggestions as offers – for instance: “Do you want me to call Modrá linka with you?” Do not formulate them as orders: “Call the police! You must report it!”
  • Do not do anything against the will of the person who confided in you.
  • It may be taxing to be a confidant of a sexual abuse victim. You are fully entitled to seek help, too.

The text was prepared in cooperation with the Konsent association which aims to dispel myths about sexual violence and rape.

References

  • EUROPEAN INSTITUTE FOR GENDER EQUALITY. Sexism at work: how can we stop it? Handbook for the EU institutions and agencies [online]. LU: Publications Office, 2020. DOI: 10.2839/290396
  • KOLÁŘOVÁ, Kateřina, Petr PAVLÍK and Irena SMETÁČKOVÁ. Co je sexuální obtěžování a jak se mu bránit: příručka pro studující vysokých škol. Praha: Fakulta humanitních studií Univerzity Karlovy v Praze, 2009. ISBN 978-80-87398-10-4.
  • CORTINA, Lilia M., Mary P. KOSS and Sarah L. COOK. What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape? In: The Conversation [online]. 20. 9. 2018 [cit. 03.01.2021]. Available at: http://theconversation.com/whats-the-difference-between-sexual-abuse-sexual-assault-sexual-harassment-and-rape-88218
  • Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment. In: Equal Rights Advocates [online]. 2019 [cit. 03.01.2021]. Available at: https://www.equalrights.org/issue/equality-in-schools-universities/sexual-harassment/
  • SMETÁČKOVÁ, Irena and Petr PAVLÍK. Sexuální obtěžování na vysokých školách: Teoretické vymezení, metodologický přístup, výzkumné výsledky. Sociologický časopis, 2011, year 47, no. 2, p. 361–388. DOI: 10.13060/00380288.2011.47.2.06
  • SCHLÖGL, Waltraud, Barbara SCHAFFER. Sexual Harassment at the University of Vienna [online]. Vienna: University of Vienna, 2018 [cit. 03.01.2021]. Available at: https://personalwesen.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/d_personalwesen/Gleichstellung/Dokumente/Broschuere_Sex.Bel._2018_EN.pdf

 

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