Widespread sexual harassment among males and females on college campuses goes largely unreported, according to a survey released last month by the American Association of University Women.
Almost two thirds of male and female college students interviewed said they have encountered some type of sexual harassment while attending a university, about a third of which included physical contact such as being grabbed or touched in a sexual manner.
Verbal sexual harassment in the form of comments or jokes was even more prevalent, with 57 percent of female and 48 percent of male students saying they had experienced harassment of that kind.
Despite its prevalence, the study found that victims of sexual harassment are more likely to confide in a friend than a university official, causing many incidents to go unreported. More than a third of victims told no one about the incident and about half told a friend, but just 7 percent reported it to a faculty member or college employee.
“We ask, ‘Where do you draw the line?’ as a call to action to students, parents, faculty, campus deans, and administrators and to the collective higher education community,” said Elena Silva, director of research at AAUW, at a news conference.
The survey, “Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus,” surveyed 2,036 at both two-year and four-year colleges, defining sexual harassment as “any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behavior which interferes with your life.”
The findings show that sexual harassment is a particular problem for female students. Over 68 percent of female students who experienced harassment felt very or somewhat upset by it, compared to only 35 percent of male students who responded similarly.
A majority of the female students also said they felt self-conscious, embarrassed or angry afterwards, and one third said they felt afraid. About a fifth of female victims polled said the incidents had a negative affect on their entire college experience.
Given the prevalence of sexual harassment at colleges and universities, Silva said that schools need to be more proactive in making sure that their students feel safe in the campus environment.
“College is a time of emotional, intellectual, and physical development for young adults,” Silva said. “While we need to respect students’ freedom of expression and allow them to test social and cultural boundaries, this must be balanced with students’ fundamental right to be free from sexual harassment as they pursue their education.”