Gender-Based And Sexualized Violence In Higher Education
This page provides an overview of the international state of play on selected aspects from the research field gender-based and sexualized violence in higher education. For compiling this overview, we used current research literature from the social sciences. Most of the references link to sources in English. To get started, we like to spotlight four relevant journals that regularly publish research articles on gender-based violence (not only focusing on higher education).
The British “Journal of Gender-Based Violence” publishes articles three times a year that deal with the role of gender-based violence in relation to social structures, inequalities, and gendered norms. The journal “Sex Roles” publishes findings on gender differences from the social and behavioral sciences monthly, often relating to sexism or sexual harassment. The journal “Violence against Women” appears every month and publishes research on aspects concerning violence against women, and the “Journal of Interpersonal Violence” describes itself as a discussion forum for people who deal professionally with, among other things, the effects of violence.
In Germany, the issue of sexual harassment of women at universities has been off the academic agenda for a long time. In 1996, Bußmann and Lange compiled a book of original experience reports on harassment, including reports from other countries. 20 years later, the expert opinion of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency of 2015, represents another milestone for the topic in German higher education. Kocher and Porsche analyze the regulations applicable to universities, institutional standard procedures, and compare them with selected practices. The study points to the high backlog demand at universities, e.g. in prevention, intervention as well as sanctions, but also on the part of the legislators.
- Bußmann/Lange (Eds.) (1996): Peinlich berührt: sexuelle Belästigung von Frauen an Hochschulen. München
- Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (2015): Sexuelle Belästigung im Hochschulkontext – Schutzlücken und Empfehlungen (Sexual Harassment at University – Protection Gaps and Recommendations). With assistance of Eva Kocher and Stefanie Porsche
Some studies rely on quantitative measurements in researching the incidence of gender-based and sexualized violence. Yet, with these research designs the question whether the number of reported cases of violence represent actually all plausible cases, or rather shows the probability of reporting acts of violence, considering whether the act is perceived as violence among the respondents or not, often remains unclear. Furthermore, a large number of statistical data insufficiently considers reporting intersectional entanglements of victimizations. A policy comparison between the USA, Europe and Germany on how sexual harassment is dealt with can be found in Zippel 2006.
- Brubaker et al. (2017): Measuring and reporting campus sexual assault: Privilege and exclusion in what we know and what we do. In Sociology Compass 11 (12), pp. 1–19
- Bursik and Gefter (2011): Still Stable After All These Years. Perceptions of Sexual Harassment in Academic Contexts. In The Journal of Social Psychology 151 (3), pp. 331–349
- Cassino and Besen‐Cassino (2019): Race, threat and workplace sexual harassment. The dynamics of harassment in the United States, 1997–2016. In Gender, Work & Organization 15 (1), pp. 1221–1240
- Hearn et al. (2016): Interrogating violence against women and state violence policy. Gendered intersectionalities and the quality of policy in The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. In Current Sociology 64 (4), pp. 551–567
- Humbert et al. (submitted 2020): Explaining the Nordic gender equality paradox: factors affecting rates of disclosed gender-based violence across the EU. Submitted to PLOS One February 2020
- Walby et al. (2017): The Concept and Measurement of Violence against Women and Men. Bristol: Policy Press
- Walby/Towers (2017): Measuring violence to end violence. Mainstreaming gender. In Journal of Gender-Based Violence 1 (1), pp. 11–31
- Zippel (2006): The politics of sexual harassment. A comparative study of the United States, the European Union, and Germany. Cambridge, UK, New York: Cambridge University Press
With a perspective on social science survey studies, Fitzgerald et al. created the basis for recording and studying gender-based and sexualized violence (of women) in the early 1990s. Since then, the instruments, e.g. the “Sexual Experiences Questionnaire”, have been used and further developed worldwide.
- Fitzgerald et al. (1997): Antecedents and Consequences of Sexual Harassment in Organizations. A Test of an Integrated Model. In Journal of Applied Psychology 82 (4), pp. 578–589
- Fitzgerald et al. (1995): Measuring Sexual Harassment: Theoretical and Psychometric Advances. In Basic and Applied Social Psychology 17 (4), pp. 425–445
- Fitzgerald et al. (1988): The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. In Journal of Vocational Behavior 32 (2), pp. 152–175
- Gutek et al. (2004): A Review and Critique of the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ). In Law and Human Behavior 28 (4), pp. 457–482
- Willness et al. (2007): A meta‐analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. In Personnel Psychology 60 (1), pp. 127–162
In 2020 Bondestam and Lundqvist published a literature review on sexual harassment in higher education. The study was commissioned by the Swedish Research Council. The literature review includes topics like the incidence of sexual harassment in higher education, its effects, and the effectiveness of interventions implemented by higher education institutions.
Bondestam/Lundqvist (2020): Sexual harassment in higher education – a systematic review. In European Journal of Higher Education 24 (80), pp. 1–23
Frequency And Multiple Victimization
Other studies show the intersections between different forms of sexualized violence. For example, DeKeseredy et al. 2019 show that digital victimization and sexual assaults, such as those committed by an intimate partner, can occur jointly. In 2019 Fedina et al. were able to prove an accumulation of stalking experiences among cisgender women, genderfluid and sexual minorities in a study among students at eight US universities.
- DeKeseredy et al. (2019): Technology-Facilitated Stalking and Unwanted Sexual Messages/Images in a College Campus Community. The Role of Negative Peer Support. In SAGE Open 9 (1)
- Fedina et al. (2019): Prevalence and sociodemographic factors associated with stalking victimization among college students. In Journal of American College Health, pp. 1–7
Cantalupo and Kidder 2018 re-visited publicized cases of sexual misconduct by academic staff towards students in the U.S. The study showed that, on the one hand, non-consensual physical contact such as groping or coercion on the part of teachers was the cause in about half of the 300 cases evaluated and, on the other hand, that in just over half of the cases the perpetrators (academics) were accused of a whole series of sexual assaults, i.e. serial behavior.
- Cantalupo/Kidder (2018): A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty. In Utah Law Review, pp. 671–786
The prevalence of sexual harassment has been indicated several times for medical students and doctors at university hospitals, with women being in the majority of students and doctors - but still particularly affected by sexual assault and harassment (Vargas et al. 2020). The study “Watch-Protect-Prevent” (2014-2016) on gender-based violence and sexual harassment in the field of medicine illuminates the situation at the Charité university hospital in Berlin.
- Vargas et al. (2020): #MedToo: A Large-Scale Examination of the Incidence and Impact of Sexual Harassment of Physicians and Other Faculty at an Academic Medical Center. In Journal of Women‘s Health 29 (1), pp. 13–20 (first published online 2019)
- Charité – Universitätsmedizin in Berlin (2014-2016): Die WPP (WATCH-PROTECT-PREVENT) Studie
Studies are also available on female physics students experiencing violence (Aycock et al. 2019), as well as on gender-based violence among international students (Forbes-Mewett/McCulloch 2016). It is assumed that in male-dominated occupational fields women are at higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment (Haas/Timmerman 2010). Women in leading positions in science and technology are not exempt from this pattern, as an interview study from Great Britain demonstrates (Howe-Walsh/Turnbull 2016).
- Aycock et al. (2019): Sexual harassment reported by undergraduate female physicists. In Physical Review Physics Education Research 15
- Forbes-Mewett/McCulloch (2016): International Students and Gender-Based Violence. In Violence against women 22 (3), pp. 344–365
- Haas/Timmerman (2010): Sexual harassment in the context of double male dominance. In European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 19 (6), pp. 717–734
- Howe-Walsh/Turnbull (2016): Barriers to women leaders in academia. Tales from science and technology. In Studies in Higher Education 41 (3), pp. 415–428 (first published online 2014)
As part of the broad-based study by the Association of American Universities (AAU), Kaasa et al. 2016 examined the characteristics and conditions of people who repeatedly experienced sexual assault and misconduct. The study shows that the group of people who have been repeatedly exposed to sexual assault comprises more risk factors than those cohorts that have not experienced this multiple times. An increased risk of multiple sexual assaults is prevalent, for example, among young students in the first years of their academic studies, women students and women with physical handicap status, and students who do not identify as heterosexual. Those affected by repeated or multiple assaults were more likely than those who were not affected to believe that the perpetrator(s) would take revenge if the incident was reported. People repeatedly exposed to sexual assault were also less likely to believe that other students and university officials would offer protection and assistance to survivors.
- Kaasa et al. (2016): Recurring Victimization in the AAU Climate. Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Edited by Westat. Association of American Universities. Rockville
Effects Of Gender-Based And Sexualized Violence On Survivors
Sexual harassment can have significant negative consequences for the well-being and health of the victimized persons. In the U.S., Aycock et al. asked women physics students about their experiences with sexual harassment. Negative impacts were also proven for allegedly minor cases of sexual harassment. The study found effects on job satisfaction, work performance and motivation, depressive disorders, and a general decline in well-being. A summary of individual and organizational effects is provided by the 2018 study of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine of the USA.
- Aycock et al. (2019): Sexual harassment reported by undergraduate female physicists. In Physical Review Physics Education Research 15
- Chan et al. (2008): Examining the Job-Related, Psychological, and Physical Outcomes of Workplace Sexual Harassment. A Meta-Analytic Review. In Psychology of Women Quarterly 32 (4), pp. 362–376
- Gelaye et al. (2009): Depressive symptoms among female college students experiencing gender-based violence in Awassa, Ethiopia. In Journal of Interpersonal Violence 24 (3), pp. 464–481
- Hesson-McInnis/Fitzgerald (1997): Sexual Harassment: A Preliminary Test of an Integrative Model. In Journal of applied social psychology 27 (10), pp. 877–901
- National Academies of Sciences, Engeneering, and Medicine (Ed.) (2018): Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press
- Witze (2018): Sexual harassment is rife in US science. Science academies call for cultural shift to fight problem. In Nature 558 (21 June 2018), S. 352–353
Since the establishment of a working group in 2015 to study forms and incidents of gender-based violence in universities, gender equality practice and research in this field have been considered as two faces of one coin in the UK. The anthology edited by Anitha and Lewis 2018 gives an impression of the current activities. In her expertise, Cantalupo 2014 summarizes the legal literature and findings of empirical surveys of US universities and points out that universities that voluntarily conducted empirical surveys on sexual assault on campus have an advantage over those universities that did not conduct such surveys (see also the page on survey studies).
- Anitha/Lewis (Eds.) (2018): Gender based violence in university communities. Policy, prevention and educational initiatives. Bristol: Policy Press
- Cantalupo (2014): Institution-Specific Victimization Surveys: Addressing Legal and Practical Disincentives to Gender-Based Violence Reporting on College Campuses. In Trauma, Violence & Abuse 15 (3), pp. 227–241
- Lewis/Anitha (2019): Explorations on the Nature of Resistance: Challenging Gender-Based Violence in the Academy. In Gail Crimmins (Ed.): Strategies for Resisting Sexism in the Academy. Higher Education, Gender and Intersectionality. Cham: Springer International Publishing (Palgrave Studies in Gender and Education), pp. 75–94.
How does the phenomenon of sexual harassment in the workplace relate to the prevailing working climate? Do factors relating to the working environment allow early uncovering of the probability of sexual harassment? In 2019, Tenbrunsel et al. point to numerous contextual factors in academic institutions, e.g. power imbalances, short term employment contracts, or role model failure, which can lead to organizational blindness about the problem. These factors also play a key role in dealing with cases of gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Fisher et al. refer to forms of sexualized violence in which the victimized person can no longer defend herself /himself /themselves. And Jordan et al. 2018 draw attention to the diversity of reactions among students with regard to sexist and heteronormative views.
- Fisher et al. (2016b): Characteristics of Nonconsensual Sexual Contact Incidents: Penetration and Sexual Touching by Force or While Incapacitated. Edited by Westat. Rockville
- Jordan et al. (2018): Understanding student responses to gender based violence on campus: negotiation, reinscription and resistance. In Anitha/ Lewis (Eds.): Gender based violence in university communities. Policy, prevention and educational initiatives. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 189–209
- Tenbrunsel et al. (2019): Sexual Harassment in Academia: Ethical Climates and Bounded Ethicality. In Annual Review of Psychology 70, pp. 245–270
A 2019 interview study commissioned by the Dutch network of female professors (LNVH) evaluates professional experiences such as bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, of female academics. It also looks at related university contextual factors and professional and personal consequences for victimized people.
- Naezer et al. (2019): Harassment in Dutch academia. Exploring manifestations, facilitating factors, effects and solutions. Edited by LNVH
More background factors relate to the prevailing corporate culture, etiquette and the accepted ways of doing things. Where sexism and gender stereotypes are normalized and women are reified (Cogoni et al. 2018), a high (hidden) number of cases of gender-based and sexualized violence can be assumed (Whitley and Page 2015; Leon-Ramirez et al. 2018). McLaughlin et al. argue that women in leadership positions also become targets of sexual harassment because of their gender if they are perceived as a threat to men’s claims of authority.
- Cogoni et al. (2018): Reduced empathic responses for sexually objectified women. An fMRI investigation. In Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior 99, pp. 258–272
- Leon-Ramirez at al. (2018): Gender Stereotypes within the University. Does Sexism Determine the Choice of Degree amongst University Students? In Revista Española de Sociología 27 (3), pp. 434–449
- McLaughlin et al. (2012): Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power. In American Sociological Review 77 (4), pp. 625–647
- Whitley and Page (2015): Sexism At The Centre. Locating The Problem Of Sexual Harassment. In New Formations (86), pp. 34–53
At US universities Iverson 2016 and Phipps 2018 in the UK challenge the role of universities in protecting students from sexual harassment and gender-based violence. The papers address regulatory shortcomings as well as the universities’ own interests in answering to the hazardous loss of reputation after cases of sexual harassment become public. An inventory of university responses against sexual harassment in universities of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is presented in the Gender Report of the Women’s & Gender Research Network NRW.
- Iverson (2016): The risky subject. A policy discourse analysis of sexual assault policies in higher education. In Roland W. Mitchell, Sara Carrigan Wooten (Eds.): The crisis of campus sexual violence. Critical perspectives on prevention and response. New York: Routledge, pp. 15–32
- Phipps (2018): Reckoning up: sexual harassment and violence in the neoliberal university. In Gender and Education 32 (2), pp. 227–243
- Women’s & Gender Research Network NRW (2019): Gender Report (in German)
In a study on the effects of intervention programs (2019) in US universities Mahoney et al. point to further need for action. They examined intervention measures for victimized persons, sexually assaulted persons, and bystanders in these situations. Interventions for perpetrators can be helpful to make the campus safer, yet the authors of the study call for a consistent testing of the effectiveness of standard procedures in place at universities. They also support preventive measures that consider specific situations, in which sexual misconduct occurs frequently.
- Mahoney et al. (2019): Applying the Haddon Matrix to evaluate sexual assault interventions on college campuses. In Journal of American College Health, pp. 1–8
A further subject for research in this area is training courses on violence prevention for men (see Tolman et al. 2019). Peacock and Barker contribute to the knowledge in this field with an evaluation of cross-national interventions which focused on masculine role perceptions and gender-based social practices that re-produce masculinity. Similar approaches can also be found in training courses used at universities.
- Peacock/Barker (2014): Working with Men and Boys to Prevent Gender-based Violence. In Men and Masculinities 17 (5), pp. 578–599
- Tolman et al. (2019): A Global Exploratory Analysis of Men Participating in Gender-Based Violence Prevention. In Journal of Interpersonal Violence 34 (16), pp. 3438–3465 (first published online 2016)
A frequently used tool to prevent the normalization of sexual harassment in the workplace is training, particularly for human resources managers, which help to inform and raise awareness about the issue. In this context, a study by Goldberg et al. from 2019 examined the correlation between the degree of tolerance towards sexual harassment within organizations, knowledge of reporting procedures, and myth-based attitudes towards sexual harassment (see also the page on survey studies). The study shows that the level of tolerance of sexual harassment in organizations is strongly correlated with knowledge about reporting procedures, but that attitudes among human resource managers are unlikely to be changed by awareness trainings. Greenhalgh-Spencer 2019 also calls for more engaging with the content and forms of knowledge transfer as well as centering trainings on practical application contexts, i.e. in the case of online harassment.
- Goldberg et al. (2019): The direct and indirect effects of organizational tolerance for sexual harassment on the effectiveness of sexual harassment investigation training for HR managers. In Human Resource Development Quarterly 30 (1), pp. 81–100
- Greenhalgh-Spencer (2019): Cyber Safe Curricula and Online Harassment. In Educational Theory 69 (1), pp. 73–89
A systematic meta-analysis by Hensman Kettrey and Marx (2019) reviews data from 15 studies (N= 6104) in which the consequences of prevention programs against sexual assault at universities. The authors examine the programs effects with regard to the self-efficacy value of bystanders, the intention to intervene, and the actual interference of bystanders. A comparison between the programs suggests that the programs that target first-year students have the best effects. Banyard et al. and Bennett et al. laid the groundwork in 2014 to study this type of prevention program. Hoxmeier et al., on the other hand, investigated reasons why students who witnessed cases of sexual harassment did not intervene.
- Banyard et al. (2014): How do we know if it works? Measuring outcomes in bystander-focused abuse prevention on campuses. In Psychology of Violence 4 (1), pp. 101–115
- Bennett et al. (2014): To act or not to act, that is the question? Barriers and facilitators of bystander interventions. In Journal of Interpersonal Violence 29 (3), pp. 476–496
- Hensman Kettrey/ Marx (2019): The Effects of Bystander Programs on the Prevention of Sexual Assault across the College Years: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. In Journal of Youth and Adolescence 48 (2), pp. 212–227
- Hoxmeier et al. (2019): “She Wasn’t Resisting”: Students’ Barriers to Prosocial Intervention as Bystanders to Sexual Assault Risk Situations. In Violence against women 25 (4), pp. 485–505
One of the most important reasons why cases of gender-based and sexualized violence are not reported is the normalization of violent behaviors and language. A study at Danish universities showed that, in contrast to women students and international students, male Danish students were the least likely to be victimized by sexual harassment. Also, they are the ones least likely to perceive cases of sexual harassment as such. Guschke et al. as well as Howlett call on to the universities in take more responsibility for shared social values to make the university a safe space. Fisher et al. investigated satisfaction rates with the support services – similar to the work of Sanders 2019, which deals with the experiences with the standard reporting procedure at the university.
- Fisher et al. (2016): Victims’ Use of Resources, Evaluation of Resources, and Reasons for Not Using Resources. Edited by Westat. Rockville
- Guschke et al. (2019): Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. Experiences and Perceptions among Students at a Danish University. In Kvinder, Køn & Forskning (1-2), pp. 11–30
- Howlett (2019): Stop Being So Melodramatic! Or, the Problem with Sexual Harassment Policies. In Educational Theory 69 (1), pp. 127–139
- Sanders (2019): Factors Influencing the Experience of Reporting Sexual Violence in Post-Secondary Institutions. Master Thesis. University of Calgary, Calgary
Hart presents additional reasons why sexual harassment cases are often not reported to bodies internal to the organization, in an experimental study of 2019. In this experiment, study participants were asked to assess work performance on the basis of women’s performance records and make suggestions for promotion. The fictitious personnel records indicated that some women were affected by sexual harassment and whether they had reported the incident by themselves. In the experiment, self-reporting of sexual harassment cases resulted in penalizing these women by proposing them less frequently for promotion. The self-reporting thus led to an additional discrimination through social sanctioning (and less opportunities).
- Hart (2019): The Penalties for Self-Reporting Sexual Harassment. In Gender & Society 33 (4), pp. 534–559
The phenomenon “Pass the harasser” can be observed if universities remain silent about cases of gender-based violence on campus and try to get rid of the perpetrators quickly. In these cases, perpetrators often escape from the sanctions for misconduct. The next employer remains unaware of the happenings and therefore no precautions or preventative measures are taken.
- Chi Cantalupo/Kidder (2018): A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty. In Utah Law Review, pp. 671–786
- Mervis (2019): Universities move to stop passing the harasser. In Science 366 (6469), p. 1057
Further publications on gender-based and sexualized violence can be found in our literature database Lit@CEWS.