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Sexual harassment report brings awareness
Posted February 27, 2006

Yelena Ovcharenko
Web Editor


Sexual harassment is widespread among both men and women on college campuses, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

The report, called “Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus,” released Jan. 24 found that 62 percent of college students experience harassment and that women and men have an equal chance of being harassed.

University of La Verne senior criminology major Tiffany Davis described sexual harassment as unwanted verbal abuse and undesired physical contact.

“It includes touching in inappropriate areas, gawking, explicit comments in reference to physical appearance,” Davis said.

According to the report, sexual comments and jokes are the most common form of harassment. Nearly half of the male and female participants in the study said that they had experienced such harassment.

Sexual harassment leaves a negative shadow on college students’ lives and strains their academic and social abilities, the report found.

“Sexual harassment pervades campus life and prevents college students, both male and female, from achieving the social and academic benefits that colleges and universities aim to provide,” said Barbara O’Connor, president of AAUW Educational Foundation, in a statement following the report’s release.

Harris Interactive Inc. conducted the study online and questioned 2,036 undergraduate college students that were between 18 and 24 years old between May 5 and 25, 2005. The study was done on behalf of the AAUW Educational Foundation and included U.S. students enrolled in public and private institutions that offer two-year and four-year degrees. An individual’s sex, race, education, region and household income were used to resemble the actual proportions in the population. The report has a sampling error of  +/-2 percent and a 95 percent certainty.

According to the report, sexual harassment takes an especially heavy toll on female students. Sixty-eight percent of female students that have experienced sexual harassment were emotionally distressed.

“Female students are particularly troubled by sexual harassment,” O’Connor said. “They are upset, embarrassed, angered, and scared by these experiences, although it is rare that they actually report harassment to a college official.”

Sexual harassment seemed to have the greatest affect on new students. One-third of sexual harassment victims in the study were first year students.

“I came in super naïve and found myself in a position where I had to deal with inappropriate comments and the oh so famous ‘let me rub your back’ tactic,” said ULV senior liberal arts major Glennda Bivens.

Unfortunately, about one-third of college students admitted that they were harassed. Most students fail to report sexual harassment because they are afraid that their image will become tainted if others find out about the incident. 

“People don’t report it,” said Samantha Farless, ULV sophomore public relations major. “It’s an embarrassment because it’s a small campus and word travels.”

The report also found that harassers are usually male and see harassment as something funny. Forty-five percent of all students admit that they have sexually harassed someone on campus. Private college students are more likely to sexually harass someone than public college students. The most common rationale for harassment was “I thought it was funny” and less than 17 percent of those that admit harassing someone.

“We ask, ‘Where do you draw the line?’ as a call to action to students, parents, faculty, campus deans, administrators and to the collective higher education community,” said Elena Silva, AAUW Educational Foundation Director of Research, at a press conference. “College is a time of emotional, intellectual, and physical development for young adults. While we need to respect students’ freedom of expression and allow them to test social and cultural boundaries, this must be balance with the students’ fundamental right to be free from sexual harassment as they pursue their education.”

The report found that sexual harassment happens at all types of institutions and all over campus.

More than half of the students interviewed wished that their college would offer a web-based method of reporting sexual harassment anonymously. Forty-seven percent preferred to have a designated person or office to contact about sexual harassment. More than one-third of students tell no one and almost half tell a friend. 

This research report has shown that colleges and universities need improvement in their sexual harassment policies.

“‘Drawing the Line: Sexual harassment on Campus’ reveals that colleges and universities still have work to do to foster a campus climate that is free from bias and harassment so that all students have an equal opportunity to excel in higher education,” O’Connor said. 

Yelena Ovcharenko can be reached at yovcharenko@ulv.edu.