Study finds high levels of sexual harassment at Czech universities

A study by a Charles University research team suggests that over three quarters of Czech university students have at some point been the victims of sexual harassment. Unlike most academic institutions in Western Europe and the United States, Czech universities do not have explicitly stated anti-sexual harassment policies, and the issue is largely neglected. The research team is now sending guidelines to universities across the Czech Republic on how to combat the problem. Sarah Borufka spoke to one of the authors of the report, Professor Petr Pavlík.

“The main findings are that about 78 percent of students in our sample, which was not representative [in the scientific sense of the word], I have to stress. But it was in some ways representative and so if we extrapolated our figures, we could say that 78 percent of the student population encountered behavior that would in legal and scientific terms considered sexual harassment. But only three percent of our respondents reflect on this and are aware that they have become victims of sexual harassment.”

Petr PavlíkPetr Pavlík There is such a drastic gap between those who were harassed and those who are aware of it?

“I think partly it’s due to education, people don’t know what sexual harassment is, they consider a lot of behavior unpleasant but they don’t realize that it’s also unprofessional and illegal under the laws of the Czech Republic. Another reason could be that people don’t like to feel like the victim. There are different ways you can explain this, but I think the most probable reason is that people just don’t know enough about sexual harassment.”

Are there subtle forms of harassment that students don’t recognize as such, but it still exerts pressure on them?

“In laymen’s terms, what is considered sexual harassment is sexual harassment quid pro quo, which means a teacher or someone in a position of power tries to get sexual favors in exchange for doing other favors or by threatening to take some action that would negative effect your academic success, that’s what people typically consider sexual harassment. But there are other forms, for example a teacher trying to have a romantic or sexual relationship with a student, a teacher touching a student. There aren’t necessarily any favors in exchange for those actions, but they may be unpleasant, it may affect your studies and how you feel about the teaching.”

And how can this be remedied? Will universities take steps to resolve the issue?

“I would hope that they would take steps to resolve this and I hope that they try to be more like the universities in Western Europe and the US. There, every prestigious university has a statement against sexual harassment and similar policies, institutional arrangements, and a system that makes it easier to hand in a complaint, etc. Nothing like that exists for Czech universities.”