A recent study calls for more regulations and reviewing codes of conduct in state institutions.
For Romanians, sexual harassment is a notion displayed more in American movies than as a daily reality. Even though asking for sexual favors in exchange for services, promotions or better grades is a felony in Romania, relatively few complaints are filed by those impacted. In fact, there are currently no official statistics on this phenomenon or on the resulting impact for victims. The FILIA center, a feminist organization fighting gender inequality, selected the university environment to start research through an exploratory study on sexual harassment in schools.
Over 600 people, students, doctoral candidates professors and support completed online questionnaires from over 42 universities. Though not considered a representative piece of research, its results do offer insights into the size of the phenomenon and general attitudes on sexual harassment. One conclusion suggests that the problem exists in the university setting because of a fear of filing complaints against inappropriate actions once they occur. Some respondents emphasized the need to clarify the definition of sexual harassment in their universities’ codes of conduct as well as introduce penalties proportional to the gravity of the deed. Here with details is Andreea Braga, president of the FILIA Center:
“Sexual harassment is defined in law 202/2002 on equal opportunity for women. This is a law applied largely on the labor market. Sexual harassment is also defined in the Criminal Code, but there is no clear definition applicable to all universities. Codes of conduct differ from one university to another, and in some of them sexual harassment is clearer, more nuanced, while in others there is a simple mention that sexual harassment is forbidden. A more ample definition, or one that offers more concrete examples, could simplify the procedures of filing a complaint, and would encourage persons faced with this kind of abuse to file complaints. One of the results of our study indicates that when they are asked if they have faced sexual harassment, about 20% answer yes. But, when asked to give concrete examples of sexual harassment, the percentage increases. Those who initially answer no, when asked to check the box with concrete examples, pick one, and the percentage goes up to 50%. Therefore, we have a problem of connecting sexual harassment to very serious cases, the kind that sometimes appear in the news. Those cases include demands for sexual favors in exchange for a better academic evaluation. We [tend to] overlook less serious cases of sexual harassment.”
These less serious cases, like sexual jokes and name-calling, are not limited to the academic environment, but are widespread in daily life, including instances of inappropriate touching in public transportation. According to Andreea Braga, these cases should not be overlooked:
“We were told that people couldn’t make jokes any more because we bristle at the drop of a hat and we throw around accusations of sexual harassment. But these jokes with sexual overtones can go as far as jokes about rape, which legitimizes behaviors later on. This is what happens with inappropriate light touching. They say: ‘What’s the big deal, I just touched you a little’. But in the end, it’s my body and my intimacy. I am in a place where I came to learn and grow, not to shut myself off and believe it is my fault, because I dressed in a blouse that gives a man the impression that they can touch me.”
So what exactly happens in an institution for education and personal development when students deviate from the norm? Here’s what a study conducted by the FILIA Center and Andreea Braga discovered:
“At a first glance, there are 380 people of 668 who said that there is sexual harassment in universities in general. Of those individuals, 165 people said they were subject at least once to jokes with sexual overtones that made them uncomfortable. 129 respondents were subject to commentaries with sexual overtones or received nicknames with a sexual connotation. 13 people faced threats or pressure related to their academic or professional evaluation in exchange for sexual relations.”
So who is the aggressor in these situations? We asked Andreea Braga:
“Most people indicated by the respondents said ‘a male student’ and ‘a male professor’. There are other answers, such as ‘a male doctoral candidate’ and ‘a female doctoral candidate’, or ‘a female professor’, but these cases are fewer. Most of the time the answer is ‘a student’ or ‘a professor, which means that this problem exists in relationships between colleagues and relationships with authority figures who must give performance evaluations. Maybe in that situation you are afraid of standing up to someone on whom your future depends.”
Under these circumstances, it falls on the universities to condemn sexual harassment as explicitly as possible, and to create an environment where the victim is vindicated, not the aggressor. Andreea Braga:
“What also matters is the culture or environment where we study or work, as well as our colleagues’ reaction when we are victim to sexual harassment. We can see that more often than not some forms of violence against women are minimized. When it comes to sexual harassment, it is even more difficult to step up and get through this. There is a sum of factors --- the confidence that, if you are wronged, this wrong can be corrected by the institution where you study, and it can be consolidated through policies adopted by each university. It can only be consolidated through changes in the code of conduct, which clearly show the willingness to improve norms in schools. These must be accompanied by programs or awareness campaigns regarding the rights and obligations that professors and students must retain when interacting with each other.”
VM The FILIA Center hopes the exploratory study on sexual harassment in universities will raise alarm and awareness for campus safety, as well as opportunities for further research into the