Students hesitate to report harassment

TCU students, like their college counterparts in a nationwide survey, are reluctant to report sexual harassment to school authorities, said Susan Adams, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and sexual harassment officer at Campus Life.Almost two-thirds of U.S. college students experience sexual harassment, but less than 10 percent report it to school authorities, according to a survey by the American Association of University Women.

At TCU, students hesitate to report sexual harassment because of the fear of being labeled or magnifying the situation, Adams said.

Two sexual harassment cases were reported last fall, and they both became serious by the time the students reported them, Adams said.

The number of sexual harassment reports to Campus Life do not necessarily represent the total number of incidents on campus because students might take complaints to someone they trust and then resolve them informally, Adams said.

“Some students speak casually about being harassed, but when asked if they want to report it, they decide not to,” she said. “More situations occur than are brought to our attention, but we encourage students to report it because this behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” she said.

Adams said sexual harassment entails sexual rumors about someone, jokes, touching, hugging or anything that makes one feel uncomfortable, especially through phone and e-mail.

In the AAUW survey, almost one-third of the 2,036 college students surveyed, ages 18 to 24, revealed they had been touched, grabbed or pinched sexually.

Detective Kelly Ham said sexual harassment is not a crime and that TCU Police intervene only when it generates into sexual assault.

Adams said some students try to handle the situation personally by gathering friends to confront the person that harassed them, but when students don’t report the behavior, there is a risk that the perpetrator will harass others, Adams said.

Carrie Siko, a junior ballet major, said men tend to be blatant about sex at parties.

“I have had a guy grab my butt at a party,” she said. “I just told my friends about it.”

Alex Ibarra, a junior movement science major, said men on campus have made some unpleasant comments about her.

“Even though I dressed appropriately, I heard the guys say inappropriate things about the way I looked,” she said.

Sexual harassment occurs in classrooms and at parties, Adams said, but it is also common between students who used to have a dating relationship.

“What happens is that one or both parties break it off,” she said. “But when the other just doesn’t understand that they don’t want to be with them, it becomes a problem.”

When students report harassment, Campus Life asks them if they are comfortable with warning the perpetrators, Adams said. If the student is not, Campus Life assigns a third party to speak for him or her, Adams said. If the behavior continues against his or her wishes, Campus Life intervenes by providing mediation, she said.

When mediation does not stop the behavior, the perpetrator is put through the student discipline process, where he or she can be put on probation or suspended, Adams said.

In the last two years, one student has been suspended, Adams said.

When the situation is resolved, Campus Life still monitors the offended party through the Victim Advocate Program, which helps students recover from sexual harassment, relationship violence, stalking, rape and prior assault, according to a Victim Advocate Program information card.

Occasionally, a student complaint about a faculty or staff member arises. When that happens, Adams said, Campus Life makes sure the student is switched to another class and never has to take a class with that faculty member again.

The AAUW is now planning an initiative called “Building a Harassment-Free Campus” to combat sexual harassment in U.S. colleges. Adams said she would like to know more about the initiative for a possibility that TCU will participate in it.