Few are reporting sexual harassment

Published Nov 23, 2017

So far this year, just one report of sexual harassment at a university has been received by the Discrimination Ombudsman, DO.
“That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem at universities. By the time a case reaches us, it’s gone quite far,” explains Olle Andersson Brynja, DO investigator.

Zero reports of sexual harassment in connection with courses, and one at a university workplace this year. The same figure, but in reverse compared to 2016 – no reports of harassment at university workplaces and one in connection with courses.

The fact that so few reports are made from the world of academia may be down to a number of factors, according to Olle Andersson Brynja. He points out that as a sector, universities have been working with these issues for many years, so the reason can hardly be lack of knowledge.

And if a university manages its investigative responsibilities, makes sure it puts an end to harassment and offers the individual affected the right support, then it shouldn’t have to go as far as a DO report.

“The reports that come to us are often cases where the complainant feels the employer or institution has failed to deal with the situation – or has not done enough or acted quickly enough.”

Two years ago, the principal of an upper secondary vocational school was ordered to pay discrimination compensation to a female student. The young woman had been harassed over a long period of time by another student and had asked the school’s principal to intervene. The principal did eventually intervene, but after such a long time that both the district court and later the court of appeal ruled that the woman was entitled to compensation.

Another reason why no DO reports are being made could be that the case is being pursued in a different way. Trade unions are increasingly getting involved in discrimination cases, explains Olle Andersson Brynja.

Neither is the low number of reports unique to universities. There are generally very few sexual harassment cases reported to DO. Evidently many are reluctant to call attention to this type of infringement.

“The MeToo campaign gives it substance. And submitting a report means something for people. It becomes a public document, for example, although it is possible to make it classified.”

Taking compensation claims for people who have been affected to court is just one aspect of DO’s work. More emphasis is placed on preventive work via monitoring and education. As of this year, new rules in Swedish anti-discrimination legislation impose tougher requirements on employers and education coordinators to engage in prevention as regards discrimination.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius

UKÄ sexual harassment surveys

  • Doktorandspegeln and Studentspegeln, surveys carried out by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet, UKÄ), are potential tools for measuring how common a problem sexual harassment may be at universities. Both surveys have been carried out several times, most recently in 2016.
  • Of 4,751 postgraduate students who responded then, four percent had experienced sexual harassment during their period of study. The percentage was the same for the 3,769 undergraduate students who responded. For KTH, the percentages were slightly higher at six percent for those who responded to both Doktorandspegeln and Studentspegeln.
  • But the response rate was low in 2016 for both surveys at just 48 percent for Doktorandspegeln and 34 percent for Studentspegeln. The reliability of Studentspegeln is further undermined by the fact that many of the respondents neglected to answer a question about this very subject.
  • 18 percent of the respondents in total and 10 percent of those from KTH chose not to answer the question on whether they had ever been sexually harassed by another student. Since the response rate for 2016 was also significantly lower than for previous surveys, UKÄ has decided not to provide a comparative analysis.
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