Study: Harass reports are rare

Bethany Jones

Of the nearly two-thirds of college students who experience some form of sexual harassment, less then 10 percent report it to a university employee, according to a study released last week.

The study, Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus, commissioned by the American Association of University Women and conducted by Harris Interactive, is the first nationally representative study to examine sexual harassment among male and female college students.

The online survey was administered in May of last year to 2,036 U.S. students, ages 18 to 24. Those surveyed were asked to answer questions focusing only on college-related events and activities.

Study findings:

The study found more than one-third of students are harassed within their first year of college. One-third experience physical harassment such as being grabbed or being forced into sexual activity, but the majority experience non-contact harassment, which can range from sexual remarks and jokes to e-mails.

According to the study, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are most likely to experience harassment. Men and women are equally harassed, but they respond differently. Women are more likely to be the targets of sexual jokes, whereas men are more likely to be called names such as “gay” or “homophobic.”

Brad J. Crawford, senior integrated language arts major, said he is not surprised by the findings of the study.

“I work with teachers,” he said. “One of the people I work with is always complaining that kids are always trying to look down her shirt.”

Crawford said he agrees making fun of someone or joking around seems to be the most common type of sexual harassment on campus.

The study also reports racial and ethnic groups tend to experience harassment in a similar way to Caucasians, but the study shows Caucasian students who harass tend to do it because they think it’s funny. African-American and Hispanic students tend to think sexual attention is wanted, but their victims are more likely to report it to a college employee.

Findings show student-to-student harassment is most common, but 7 percent of students report being harassed by a professor. Seventy-eight percent say they would report an incident involving a professor or teaching assistant to a university employee compared to 39 percent who would report a fellow student.

Kent State’s harassment policy

Kent State policy regarding unlawful discrimination and harassment is defined in two parts. Part one describes it as “unwelcome gender bias, sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

Part two says, “Verbal and/or physical behavior includes, but is not limited to: sexually explicit jokes, insults, taunts, obscene gestures, embracing, touching, pictorial and written communications, electronic communication including e-mail and unwelcome embracing and touching.”

This form of the sexual harassment policy was last updated Feb. 10, 2005.

Ann Penn, director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, said the policy is straight-forward, and she has not encountered people confused by it.

Harassment at Kent State

Dean of Students Greg Jarvie said all sexual harassment cases get investigated and are followed up. They usually get sent to affirmative action, he said.

“I can’t even think of a handful that my office has dealt with in the last five years,” he said. “Does it take place? I’m sure it does. I think the question is the definition of it, and are we talking harassment vs. sexual harassment? There is some gray area there.”

Jarvie said almost all the cases he deals with are verbal, and it is mostly an individual being ‘nasty’ to someone else.

“I like to believe our society is a little more sophisticated today, but that’s not always the case,” he said. “We don’t have a policy that says that people can’t be rude.”

Penn said in fiscal year 2004 Kent State had 12 reported sexual harassment complaints compared with 23 in fiscal year 2003. That is including complaints for students, faculty and staff.

Penn said she has no idea what may have caused the decrease in reported complaints and said there is no way to predict behavior.

She said different departments on campus can handle sexual harassment claims. Affirmative action will investigate a claim, make a finding and usually take some type of corrective action, she said.

Most of the complaints Penn receives involve faculty members, but that may be because more student complaints are handled by judicial affairs, she said.

If a person is found to be in violation of policy, affirmative action will recommend sanctions. If a faculty member is found to have sexually harassed someone, the case will go to the provost’s office; staff members in violation go to human resources; and students in violation are handled by judicial affairs.

Depending on the degree of harassment, the university has the right to take action including training, oral or written warning, transfer, suspension, termination or expulsion.

Penn, who has been with the university for two and a half years, said the majority of cases she has dealt with are woman reporting sexual harassment by men.

“I have very few men claiming sexual harassment,” she said.

She said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students make up a small percentage of complaints as well. Only one complaint last year involved a gay or lesbian student, she said.

Dan Fitzpatrick, assistant police chief for the Kent State Police Department, said his department gets involved in harassment cases when they elevate to levels of criminal activity.

“Sexual harassment may be unwanted touching in a sexual manner. It may also constitute sexual imposition, which is a crime,” he said. “Verbal threats may constitute menacing that may lead to stalking.”

Fitzpatrick said Kent State is a microcosm of a larger society, and the frequency of crimes committed on campus tends to reflect that.

Faculty and students should take sexual harassment more seriously, Fitzpatrick said.

The effects on college life

The study reports females are more likely to have their educational experience disrupted. Most students will avoid their harasser, and some students stay away from certain buildings or places on campus. A small number think about changing schools, and about 3 percent do.

Penn said those findings are often true for Kent State students as well.

“People avoid the person making them feel uncomfortable,” she said. “A lot of women tend to blame themselves, and they start questioning if they’ve done something to warrant the behavior.”

Student suggestions

The study reports 57 percent of students would like their college to offer a confidential Web-based method for submitting complaints. Others suggest having a designated person or office to contact if someone is a victim. Others suggest providing information on the college Web site.

There is not an anonymous method in place at Kent State, but people do call and make anonymous complaints, Penn said. She said it makes it much harder to investigate. Students being sexually harassed can go to the Women’s Resource Center and the student ombuds for counseling, Penn said.

Contact enterprise reporter Bethany Jones at [email protected]