The aim of the current study was to provide estimates of both overall and specific forms of sexual harassment among male and female college and university students. Sexual harassment was defined according to Norwegian legal regulations, and was assessed by self-report on seven items covering verbal, non-verbal and physical sexual harassment. We also collected data on the timeframe and frequency of the sexual harassment, in addition to the formal position of the perpetrator of the harassment.
Lifetime sexual harassment was reported by Exposure to all forms of past-year sexual harassments was significantly more common among women and the youngest age cohorts. Given the potential consequences suffered by those exposed to sexual harassment and assault, both the institutions and student welfare organisations should intensify their efforts to put the theme on the agenda and provide both legal and health services to victims of sexual harassment.
The low response rate means that care should be taken in interpreting and generalising the findings to the whole student population. Sexual harassment was defined according to Norwegian legal regulations, covering detailed data on verbal, non-verbal and physical sexual harassment, in addition to information on the timeframe and frequency of the sexual harassment and the formal position of the perpetrator of the harassment. The MeToo movement has highlighted the challenge and impact of sexual harassment in most institutions and organisations, including academia.
This includes unwelcome verbal and non-verbal sexual behaviours, as well as undesired physical behaviours that the target finds difficult to cope with or to handle. A range of negative consequences related to sexual harassment have been documented, with sexual harassment increasing the risk of both mental 2 and somatic 3 health problems. Sexually harassed students have also been shown to perform worse academically, 4 as well as being more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as increased drug use, problematic drinking behaviours, sexual risk taking and sexual dysfunction.
The authors concluded that while the prevalence rates varied greatly, mainly due to measurement and definitional differences, unwanted sexual contact was the most prevalent form of harassment, followed by rape or rape attempt.
Also, the authors specifically called for studies specifying the timeframe in which the various sexual harassment occurred in order to better distinguish recent experiences happening in college from lifetime and childhood experiences.
Moreover, the authors concluded that future studies should provide examples of unwanted sexual experiences when defining sexual harassment in order to better differentiate specific forms of sexual harassment. Based on these considerations, the aims of the current study were 1 to estimate the prevalence rates of both overall and specific forms of sexual harassment by providing brief examples, and also to differentiate between recent and lifetime experiences; 2 to explore possible age and gender differences across these measures; and 3 to examine who fellow student, university staff or others committed the sexual harassment acts.
Data stem from a large national survey from in which all full-time students under the age of 35 taking higher education in Norway were invited to participate. The SHoT was collected electronically through a web-based platform.
Box 1 details the exact wording used in the questionnaire. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual awareness that is offensive and troublesome. Please indicate if you have been exposed to any of the following forms of sexual harassment? Negative binomial regression analyses were used to examine gender differences in the prevalence of sexual harassment forms across age groups.
Students were not involved in the actual collection of data, although recruitment was conducted in close collaboration with all the student welfare organisations in Norway. Compared with all invited students The mean age was In terms of accommodation status, Women reported substantially more sexual harassment than men lifetime: A similar gender effect was also observed for past-year sexual harassment The most common forms of lifetime sexual harassment were sexual expressions and suggestions , comments about your body, appearance or private life , and unwanted touching, hugging or kissing , which both were reported by Intrusive eye or body movements were also common Rape and rape attempt were reported by 3.
As detailed in table 1 , large gender differences were observed across all variables. Rates and forms of sexual harassment in male and female students stratified by age group. At a similar level, Detailed timeframe of sexual harassment forms stratified by sex.
As outlined in box 1 and further detailed in figure 2 , all forms of sexual harassment experienced during the past year were significantly more common in the youngest age cohort. For example, while Similar age effects were observed across most forms of past-year sexual harassment, with a few exceptions eg, indecent exposure.
Proportion of students across age groups reporting sexual harassment in the past year. As detailed in figure 3 , the majority of those students reporting lifetime sexual harassment reported multiple occurrences across all forms of harassment, except rape, for which the majority of both women Among those reporting sexual verbal harassment, a larger proportion of women This gender difference was also present for intrusive eye or body movements , but not for the other harassment forms see figure 3 for details.
Number of lifetime occurrences among students having reported harassment stratified by gender. As displayed in figure 4 , among those students having reported each harassment form within the past year, a larger proportion of men compared with women reported being sexually harassed by a fellow student.
Frequency of students, staff and others as perpetrators among male and female students who reported exposure to harassment in the past year. This large national survey from , inviting all full-time Norwegian university and college students aged 18—35, suggests that sexual harassment among Norwegian college and university students is prevalent. Almost one in four students Women reported more lifetime and recent exposure to sexual harassment across all subtypes included in the survey, but also a substantial proportion of men reported exposure to sexual harassment.
Younger students reported significantly more sexual harassment the past year than older students, and the majority of those being harassed reported multiple occurrences across all forms of harassment except rape. In terms of lifetime rape and rape attempt, this was reported by 3. As such, it is difficult to outline possible trends or compare with prevalence rates from previous studies in academic settings.
Similarly, differences in the used operationalisations and sampling procedures make it difficult to directly compare our findings with earlier studies. Some of the discrepancies may also be attributed to cultural characteristics.
Young women were especially at high risk, a finding that is also in accordance with previous studies specifically addressing this group. It should also be noted that previous research has shown that women and men differ in the perceptions of sexual harassment, as men has a higher threshold for labelling an experience as sexually harassing. A small percentage of the reported sexual harassments were from university staff members. Even so the current study shows that there are still many students who experience some form of sexual harassment from a person in power or in a trusted position.
This is especially worrisome and may need to be specifically addressed in preventive programmes. However, trend studies over time are needed to further shed light on this. Compared with findings from work-life populations, where most studies include only harassment conducted in the workplace, the present findings are not dissimilar to those reported recently from a Danish union survey.
In the union survey, only 2. However, there is a need for more nationally representative studies using questionnaires assessing specific types of sexually harassing situations to further elucidate the magnitude of this problem within the workforce. The study has some important clinical implications, as there is substantial evidence showing that victims of sexual assault are more likely to suffer from short-term and long-term health problems. The higher risk of harassment among female students is especially problematic as previous research has shown that women display stronger reactions to sexual harassment than men.
Colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to reach many young adults. Future studies should include information on the situations where the harassment occurs to better tailor interventions. There is still limited empirical evidence for the effectiveness of universal prevention programmes, 29 although there are interventions with promising results. The high prevalence of sexual harassment also has implications for victim services, which include providing both appropriate treatment and legal services.
While prevalence rates and forms of sexual harassment may differ from campus to campus, prevention, intervention and victim service strategies require a detailed overview of the specific needs for each campus population. To minimise harassment, organisations and institutions should nurture a common culture that rejects harassment and where all students and employees are equally entitled to a work environment without harassment.
Selective participation could bias the prevalences observed to the extent the selection was correlated with reports of sexual harassment. As response rates are particularly important in prevalence studies, care should be taken when generalising the current findings to the whole student population. Rather, it may be more appropriate to emphasise the relative differences between men and women, as well as different age cohorts found in the current study, as these estimates are less prone to selection bias.
Also, this problem was mitigated by examining findings separately for women and men. It is possible that the use of a web-based survey approach contributed to the modest response rate, as electronic platforms typically yield lower overall participation rates when compared with traditional postal mail approaches, such as paper-based surveys or face-to-face interviews.
Rather, we designed a new assessment battery, carefully following the content of the Norwegian legal regulations, which also corresponds well with the formal scientific definition of sexual harassment.
A final limitation is that we do not know the extent of missing data, as the questionnaire was designed to only indicate the presence of each harassment form, and not the absence. As such, although we consider it most likely that a missing answer is an indication of not having experienced that particular sexual harassment, missing answer may also mean that 1 the participant may not want to answer that particular item, 2 the participant does not remember it, or 3 the data may be missing at random, for example, not related to sexual harassment.
The most important study strengths include the very large and heterogeneous sample, as nearly all previous studies in this field focused on white, female, young undergraduate students. We wish to thank all participating students, as well as the three largest student organisations in Norway SiO, Sammen and SiT , who initiated and designed the SHoT studies.
Contributors: BS and MH drafted the manuscript and conducted the statistical analyses. All authors have approved the manuscript being submitted. Competing interests: None declared. Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed. Patient consent for publication: Obtained. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. BMJ Open. Published online Jun 9. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ. Associated Data Supplementary Materials Reviewer comments. Abstract Objective The aim of the current study was to provide estimates of both overall and specific forms of sexual harassment among male and female college and university students.
Main outcome measure Sexual harassment was defined according to Norwegian legal regulations, and was assessed by self-report on seven items covering verbal, non-verbal and physical sexual harassment. Results Lifetime sexual harassment was reported by Conclusion Given the potential consequences suffered by those exposed to sexual harassment and assault, both the institutions and student welfare organisations should intensify their efforts to put the theme on the agenda and provide both legal and health services to victims of sexual harassment.
Keywords: eidemiology, mental health, public health. Strengths and limitations of this study.