Sexual Harassment Routine, College Students in Poll Say

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sexual harassment is common on campus, according to a national online survey by the American Association of University Women released yesterday, with 62 percent of college students saying they had received a comment or gesture they found inappropriate.

Most didn't report incidents to campus employees or other officials.

One student involved with the survey said she sees harassment every day at school, including catcalls and people brushing up against her in hallways. It's a problem everywhere, said another student, Haley Pollack of Indiana University, but especially at college. "Campuses are just highly concentrated with not only hormones but everything else that comes with young adults." She said she was propositioned by a graduate assistant when getting extra help after a math class.

Greta Franklin, 27, of the University of Maryland said her friends haven't been troubled much by harassment. She thinks students are more likely to laugh things off. "I think a lot of people just think, 'What's the big deal?' "

Many students seemed confused about how to tell when a line had been crossed -- or where the lines should be.

Sexual harassment can be hard to view objectively and hard to measure, said Frank Vinik, an attorney and senior risk analyst for United Educators, a cooperative providing insurance to more than 1,000 schools. "I've been looking at harassment on college campuses from a legal perspective for more than a decade," he said, "and that [62 percent] is one of the highest numbers I've ever heard."

That could be because the survey defined harassment broadly or because the results are skewed by the survey's respondents, he said. Or the results could be a surprising new finding.

Of the millions of people who have agreed to participate in online surveys with Harris Interactive, a random sample was selected to be offered a questionnaire on college experiences. The roughly 2,000 18- to 24-year-old college students who responded to the survey in May were told that sexual harassment was unwanted behavior and could include anything from suggestive glances to spreading sexual rumors and forced contact.

The survey found that men and women are almost equally likely to say they had been sexually harassed on campus, but in different ways. Men are more likely to be called anti-gay slurs, and women are more likely to receive sexual comments or looks. Women are more likely to be uncomfortable about such incidents, the survey found, and men are more likely to laugh harassment off.

Gay students are more likely to be harassed and more likely to be upset about it, the survey found.

"We looked at who harasses and why," said Elena Silva, the director of research at the AAUW Educational Foundation. "A startlingly high number admit they've sexually harassed someone, 41 percent."

Less than a fifth of those who said they had harassed someone said they did it because they wanted to date that person. Nearly a third said they thought the person liked the attention. And almost 60 percent said they did it as a joke.

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