New study on sexual harassment
For the first time, Swedish higher education institutions have conducted a joint national survey on the prevalence of gender-based and sexual harassment in the academic sector. The responses from a total of almost 39,000 employees and students show that young people, women and students (including doctoral students) are particularly at risk.
Around four per cent of staff and students at 38 at Swedish higher education institutions claim to have been specifically subjected to “unwanted sexual attention in the work/study environment” over the past 12 months. The extent differs, however, among different groups. Six per cent of female students report that they were exposed during this period, as opposed to two per cent of male staff.
To address the nature of gender-based and sexual harassment from a situational perspective over a longer period of time, eleven questions were asked describing different forms of undesired sexual behaviours. A total of 38 per cent of respondents answered that they had experienced such behaviour at least once during their time as an employee or student. By this measure, female doctoral students reported the highest rate: 53 per cent.
“We started the collaborative research programme in 2018 in response to the #metoo movement,” says Anna Wahl, vice president of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and chair of the programme steering committee. “Our aim was to raise awareness of the prevalence of gender-based and sexual harassment in the academic sector, to analyse underlying causes and thereby to bolster the efforts being made to combat harassment, bullying and other unsolicited and inappropriate behaviour.”
The joint programme, which also involves Karolinska Institutet (KI), Malmö University and the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research (Gothenburg University), is due to present its first report today, 20 May.
“The report will cover some of the national results from a large survey carried out in 2021 in collaboration with Statistics Sweden,” explains programme leader Karin Dahlman-Wright, KI. “38,918 employees and students from 38 higher education institutions answered the survey, giving a response rate of 31.9 per cent. We hope that the report will motivate improvements that can reduce gender-based violence and sexual harassment amongst mainly young people, women and students. We expect to follow up on this report later to see if any such improvements have been made.”
Apart from the prevalence of sexual harassment, the survey also contained questions on issues such as the organisational and social work environment, health, bullying, hate and intimidation.
The project will now be furthering its analysis of the survey results. Meanwhile, the steering group hopes that this initial report will lead to important discussions and activities in Swedish academia.
LiU’s deputy vice-chancellor: Nobody should be subjected to any form of abuse
In total, 1913 individuals at LiU responded to the survey: 713 employees, 429 PhD students and 771 students.
In line with the national results, the numbers from LiU show that women have been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour in their work or studies to a greater extent than men. When asked whether they had been subjected to unwanted sexual attention at their place of work or study during the last twelve months, two percent of employees answered yes; three percent of female PhD students answered yes; and up to eight percent of female students answered yes. The survey received too few answers from male employees and PhD students for LiU to be able to present any results, but five percent of male students indicate that they have been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour.
These figures were higher when respondents were asked about having received unwanted attention in the form of gazing, uncomfortable questions about one’s private life or unwelcome sexual allusions. Something which LiU’s results show is that more women than men have been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour. When asked whether they had at any point in their working or student lives experienced unwanted sexual allusions, this was confirmed by 23 percent of women in the PhD student group and 17 percent of women in the employee group. When asked the same question, five percent of male PhD students and seven percent of male employees answer yes.
PhD students stand out in the results. For example, when asked whether they have experienced being interrupted, talked over, not listened to or having their opinions not valued, more female PhD students than male PhD students and male employees answered in the affirmative.
“At our workplaces and in our study environments, nobody should be subjected to any kind of discrimination or any kind of abuse. But the reality is that they are. The fact that PhD students, specifically female PhD students, are a particularly vulnerable is, unfortunately, something we already knew. The results of the study contribute to a greater understanding of the conditions of PhD students and of the vulnerability of female PhD students. It is important that we take account of this in developing support for PhD students, in supervisor training, and in LiU’s continued work with gender equality and career paths”, says deputy vice-chancellor Margareta Bachrack Lindström.
“Linköping University has also given extra resources to the student union so that they can employ a university-wide doctoral student representative in the autumn. The doctoral student representative’s role will be to work to ensure that students have influence and representation. They will also work with supporting individuals and raising questions within LiU.”
The survey also asked respondents whether they had, in the last 12 months, been subject to bullying at their place of work or study. Thirteen percent of female employees, and 15 percent of female PhD student, answered that they had been; six percent of male employees and male PhD students gave the same answer.
These figures increase further when the respondents were asked if they knew of any bullying having occurred in the last 12 months. Then, up to 20 percent of employees (both women and men) said that they know of bullying having taken place, and 26 percent of female PhD students give the same answer.
These figures can be compared to results from the workplace environment survey that was carried out at LiU in the autumn, in which 5.9 percent of respondents said that they had been exposed to work-related discrimination or bullying.
“We don’t know why the figures vary between LiU’s workplace environment survey and the national survey, but regardless, it’s important and good that we’re aware that co-workers and students experience work- and study-related abuse and bullying. Thanks to this, we can work actively to improve and develop a good working environment for everybody at LiU”, says the university’s director of HR Pia Rundgren.
“A secure and safe working environment should be a natural part of working at LiU, and it is also important that everybody knows who they should turn to if they feel that they have been subjected to assault or sexual harassment. A long-term piece of work for LiU, under our broader values work, has been about seeing how we can strengthen security and trust in groups of co-workers by, for example, expanding dialogues about dilemmas and that which can cause friction in our work. The result of this study shows that these questions must continue to be asked and put on the agenda.”
If you need support
If you as a student have been subjected to any kind of assault, discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment, you can turn to those who are responsible for your programme, e.g. programme leader, director of studies or equivalent, your work environment representative at the student union, Student Health. Read more here
If you have questions about the study and/or LiU’s results
Contact the equal opportunities coordinator Linda Schultz
Read the whole report
Last updated: 2022-06-10