Major report on sexual harassment in Quebec’s francophone universities ESSIMU

Major report on sexual harassment in Quebec’s francophone universities ESSIMU

Major report on sexual harassment in Quebec’s francophone universities – ESSIMU

For this on-line survey « Enquête Sexualité, Sécurité et Interactions en Milieu Universitaire, » 9,284 people responded, including students, teachers, administrators and service employees from six universities. The questions considered sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual attention, and sexual coercion. The report provides a detailed portrait. There is no reason to suppose that the situation is much different in other provinces.

Of the respondents (this was not a random sample) 37%, or 3,430 people, reported having been the victim of at least one form of aggression. Sexual harassment was most common at 34%, followed by unwelcome sexual attention at 18%, and coercion to sexual acts at 3%. The perpetrators were three times more often male than female.

The researchers received thousands of comments that give a valuable insight as to what it can be like for many of our students today. Incidents are described as well as the feelings and consequences that followed for the victims.

Among the respondents, 14% said that someone had told them of being victimized. The researchers got detailed information about how colleagues responded when someone spoke of their distress – often poorly, by minimizing or blaming the victim. In another section, victims described the responses they wished to receive, such as support to report and to seek therapeutic counselling. It would be of great value for everyone to know how to respond when someone confides in them that they have had a problem. Such confessions need be taken seriously especially since many victims tend to downplay the severity of the incident. Of course not all accused of aggression are guilty, but read on…

The report provides a measure of denial and acceptance of “rape myth” in the university population. Respondents were shown statements including;

“Some men’s harmless gestures are unjustly taken to be sexual harassment.” 39% agreed or did not disagree. The “need to know” here is that, if someone is offended and says so, to continue the behavior is legally considered as harassment. And what about false accusations of assault? There is a measure from an earlier study at an American University. Over a ten year period and 136 allegations, the research team coded only 6% as false (Lisak, et al., 2010).

“Many women give men the impression that they are interested in them but then say the man committed a sexual aggression.” 19% agreed or did not disagree.

“Men do not usually intend to force their partner, but then get sexually excited and are unable to stop.” 16% agreed or did not disagree. This is a classic part of the rape myth, along with the fantasy that the victim secretly wanted sex while saying no.

There is much for administrations to do in terms of gaining and deserving the trust of victims so they will come forward. This report provides the reasons offered by people for not reporting, i.e. the context suggested to people that others would not take a complaint seriously, or they were not confident in the response of authorities. In the anonymous survey, 36% revealed that they had never told anyone about what had happened to them, and just one in ten reported to authorities.

Two comments: 1) One consequence of not using random sampling is that visible minorities are underrepresented in the statistics at only 6% of respondents. This is a problem since visible minorities experience higher rates of harassment. 2) All the main researchers are women, and of the 23 people involved, only 2 were men. When will more men get involved and say that harassment and abuse of anyone this is their problem too?

There is more information on reporting and environmental factors see “The Prevention of …”; more on consent and victim reactions in “Alberta case …”, gender issues see “Gender in…” in the articles section at