Sexual harassment in the university environment

Sexual harassment is a negative social phenomenon that also occurs in the university environment. It disproportionately affects women due to persistent gender stereotypes, but men also encounter it. The hierarchical structure of the university environment – the dependence of students on the teaching and administrative staff – is a risk factor that limits the ability of students to immediately defend themselves against unwanted behaviour. Highly hierarchical employment relationships similarly make it difficult for male and female employees to report sexual harassment.

Both male and female students experience sexual harassment, and not only from teachers. This type of behaviour can also occur among male and female students. Likewise, harassment can occur among teachers and non-teaching staff, or between these groups. These experiences have a negative impact on the health and well-being of persons who experience or know of sexual harassment, as well as on their work and study performance. A consequence of experiences with sexual harassment can be demotivation and an aversion to the chosen field, thoughts of leaving the university, dropping out of studies, increased employment fluctuations, leaving a job or a higher rate of absence from the workplace or from classes.

According to research conducted by the Institute for Work and Family Research in the year 2019/2020, more than three-quarters of students came across sexual harassment at university during their studies. From a research sample of 1,621 male and female students from 33 faculties of Slovak public universities, up to 76% had experience with gender-motivated harassment, 46% with unwanted sexual attention and 3% with sexual coercion. These numbers are all the more alarming since in only 1% of cases did the university in question initiate official proceedings against the person who supposedly committed the harassment.

An active policy of prevention and dealing with sexual harassment is necessary also for the reasons mentioned above.