1999 Policy Paper “NO means NO”
ESIB’s statement on the Effects of Sexual Harassment and Violence at institutions of higher education. Students experience sexual harassment and sexual violence as a threat to their physical and psychological development. ESIB believes this issue deserves more attention. Therefore ESIB is taking up this challenge and unites forces to fight sexual violence and sexual harassment at institutions of higher education.
ESIB wants to take this opportunity to make a statement on the effects of sexual
harassment and sexual violence at institutions of higher education. Students experience
sexual harassment and sexual violence as a threat to their physical and psychological
development. ESIB believes this issue deserves more attention. Therefore ESIB is taking
up this challenge and unites forces to fight sexual violence and sexual harassment at
institutions of higher education.
ESIB understands sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention. We define it as any
unwelcome pressure for sexual favours, or any offensive emphasis on the sex or sexual
orientation of another person; it is behaviour which creates an intimidating, hostile or
offensive working- or learning-environment. Students, lecturers, university and college
staff can be both the victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment. Both genders may
experience sexual harassment and sexual violence from both their own and the opposite
sex. In the majority of cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence though, women are
the ones who suffer.
Sexual Harassment in Society
Sexual harassment is a world wide phenomenon. Surveys undertaken in various countries
show that sexual harassment can be experienced as a barrier to most aspects of life. At
institutions of higher education, sexual violence and sexual harassment are limiting the
personal and educational development and free movement. This can lead to drop-outs
from the educational system, heavy psychological damage and social exclusion. Equal
opportunities for both genders can not be reached under such circumstances and this is,
therefore, an obstacle to democracy.
Students may experience sexual harassment and sexual violence on different levels. The
victims are facing serious problems on the individual level.
As students attacked are often in vulnerable or difficult situations (i.e. exams, dependent
on perpetrator, lack of support or networks), the set of alternative strategies becomes
Research has shown that the closer the relationship between student and professor the
higher the risk becomes to be sexually abused . Sexual harassment and sexual violence
are also carried out by fellow students (very often of higher age and at higher levels of
studies), by so-called friends or colleagues, as well as by strangers.
The Current Structure
Institutions of higher education are mainly male dominated entities with a hierarchical
structure. The more hierarchical the structure is, the more it seems to facilitate
domination; meaning that the individuals on the lower levels of the structure will have a
high degree of dependency towards the persons at the higher levels. In this way it reflects
how society in itself is built. This creates a democracy problem.
A number of students are not aware of their rights, and/or are put in a weak position due
to both limited assertiveness and self confidence. Room for discussion is very limited or
does not exist at all. Society must be made aware of the situation in order to increase
social responsibility. Space for reflection must be created where alternative strategies can
be developed and put into action.
Instruments of Suppression
Persons in power are given a position to misuse the dependency of the suppressed by
making the dependent invisible, withholding information, ridiculing, double punishing
and creating a blame shame situation which creates uncertainty and weakness within the
person experiencing them.
Often the borders of intimacy are not accepted. This includes unwanted sexual behaviour
from harassment to violence, pressure, abuse of power, disrespect and making the victim
Thereby patronising behaviours are used to fortifying people in positions of power.