Sexual harassment: an unspoken issue on campus

Sexual harassment: an unspoken issue on campus

Sexual harassment is widely recognised as a violation of basic human rights. Complaints about sexual harassment or assault have been increasing in recent decades on university campuses around the world. Despite the grave nature of this offense and its prevalence, it is almost only discussed behind closed doors. In Forum Week’s final blog post on the international student, author Jana Stoláriková brings this topic to the forefront and shares some best practices to ensure a safe and inclusive campus. 

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as behaviors against the psychological and bodily integrity of a person that may or may not involve force, which target the person’s sexuality, gender, sexual identity and/or sexual orientation verbally, physically or through various visual materials and means of communication. Such an act occurs without the consent of the recipient. It is determined not by the intent of the assailant, but by the impact it has on the victim.

Examples of harassment that international students may experience:

  • Offensive comments or jokes
  • Derogatory remarks
  • Gender-discriminatory comments
  • Sexual requests, offers and suggestions that persist after rejection
  • Any look, attitude, touch, mimic or gesture that makes the recipient uncomfortable
  • Stalking

The importance of counseling services on campus

International students go through a period of adjustment as they adapt to local campus life, unfamiliar local norms and expectations. This can leave them vulnerable and make them targets of harassment. Part of crisis management protocol, counseling and special support groups for international students should be offered at all times. Internal campus support resources tend to be limited and students may experience additional psychological pressure not to report harassment as a result of cultural norms and even their sense of obligation to their families to succeed academically in the host country. Receiving institutions need to create awareness of sexual harassment on campus to prevent the potentially devastating consequences to victims such as depression, anxiety and possibly even feeling forced to return home.

Is sexual assault prevention part of your institution?

Universities strive to provide a supportive environment for personal, intellectual and academic growth. In this environment, any inappropriate joke, visual, verbal or physical encounter without the consent of exposed individual is considered an assault. These assaults harm the open and safe nature of education, the work environment and internationalisation on campus.

Institutions must be prepared to build an environment that encourages meaningful academic and support programs. Sexual assault prevention counseling should be included to the counseling service center. Institutions are obligated to confidentially address the reports of students who have been sexually harassed and provide them the necessary security as well as medical, psychological, psychosocial and legal support. Every sexual assault case on campus should be followed up and taken seriously. University-wide education, policy and action plans should be implemented.

Be part of the solution

Incoming international students need to be informed about this unspoken issue, as 80% of all rapes or assaults that take place on university campuses are committed by an acquaintance of the victim.

The international office together with the counseling center are responsible for helping students achieve the most out of their experience abroad by providing quality services and support. Counselors and other staff in the institution play an integral role in promoting campus support for the exchange of learning between all students.

  • Awareness – Define sexual harassment and tell students what they can do to prevent it
  • Perception – What is acceptable to one person may not be to another
  • Prevention – General understanding that any kind of sexually suggestive behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated on campus
  • Get involved – Be a part of your campus community

As a result, providing sufficient support and information on such issues helps international students feel more confident, which helps them maximize their satisfaction during the study abroad period.
For more on the international student, check out Forum magazine. 

Jana Stoláriková is Senior Adviser, Office of International Relations at Boğaziçi University.