Higher education institutions believe that the greatest obstacles in their work against sexual harassment are academic culture and structures. A study by the Swedish Council for Higher Education shows that all higher education institutions should use the available research and their own organisation in tackling these problems.

The Swedish Government tasked the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR) with investigating how higher education institutions work on preventing sexual harassment and how they manage suspected cases. No higher education institution has established any comprehensive solutions for dealing with this issue.

“Information and education are important, but are not enough to stop sexual harassment,” says the director-general of UHR, Karin Röding. ”Higher education institutions must work more preventively: analyse their own organisa­tion, look at the research, and then take action to deal with the problems.”

Doctoral students particularly vulnerable

Few higher education institutions conduct measures specifically for doctoral students, despite them all agreeing that, in the academic world, this group is particularly susceptible.

“Doctoral students are very vulnerable due to the format of their education and therefore should receive special attention,” says Karin Röding.

Fear of reprisal

Fear of reprisal remains a serious problem, despite higher education institutions’ attempts to ensure that people who report sexual harassment can do so at no risk to themselves.

“Few higher education institutions highlight efforts to counteract reprisals against the people who come forward,” says Aleksandra Sjöstrand, one of the investigators in this study. ”Nor are there many scientific evaluations describing measures that may help prevent reprisals.”

Weak management support

The study also shows that when women who report sexual harassment do not receive the support they expected from management, in many cases they leave the workplace.

“The effect is that the next woman who is harassed is reluctant to report it. Trust in management deteriorates when they do not deal with the problem, and this creates a culture of silence,” says Karin Röding.

Research summary in English

A summary of the report ”Higher education institutions’ efforts to prevent sexual harassment: a study tasked by the government” is available in English. As a complement to this work, the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research, on behalf of UHR, has produced the report “Efforts to prevent sexual harassment in academia: An international research review”. The report in its entirety is available in English.

In the review, international research on the work of preventing sexual harassment is described. It highlights research in the areas of policy, education, case management and support structures. Even the newer area "bystanders" is addressed, as are organisation and leadership.


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