Call someone who sexualises them hotly
“I am ned dei Puppal!” - sexualized harassment at universities
For several weeks now you can read about “WU-Grapscher”, a professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, who has sexually molested several women * for years. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Sexualized harassment is still strongly taboo at universities as well as in society. At the same time, however, something that almost all women * experience at least once in their lives. Sandra Hochmayr and Katrin Anna Walch on sexualized harassment at universities and in society.
“By the way, nice blouse… I like transparent things,” a WU professor wrote to one of his students by email shortly before the exam week. He sent another one a photo of his penis with the question: "Where do you have room for me, where I can ram it in?" These two emails are examples of a plethora of sexist incidents and assaults, all of which were committed by a professor at the Vienna University of Economics. Finally, some of those affected took the courage and turned to the Working Group for Equal Opportunities (AKG) at WU. A disciplinary committee was set up by the Ministry of Science to hold the professor accountable. But instead of the hoped-for and appropriate dismissal, the “WU Grapscher” was only sentenced to a penalty of four months' salary - he was still allowed to teach and research at WU. After the media picked up the case at the beginning of September, the professor was given leave of absence for four years, after which he is allowed to return and “carry on” as normal.
Sexual harassment in universities
Sexual harassment is still very much a taboo at universities. For example, 81 percent of female students in Germany state that they have already experienced sexual harassment, 50 percent of female students also directly at universities. Even if there is no comparable study in Austria, it can be assumed that the number here is not significantly lower. The events at WU in particular show that such incidents also happen at Austrian universities.
The problem with this is that students are dependent on professors, just like young scientists. Reporting a professor therefore often requires a lot of courage from those affected, especially when one considers how those affected have been dealt with at WU for years: in some cases, allegations were ignored for a long time. They even exist, the positions at universities that are responsible for such cases. A working group for questions of equal treatment must be set up at both public universities and universities of teacher education. Theoretically, this working group is there to take action against discrimination and sexualised violence at universities. The problem with this: the competencies of the AKG are usually limited. Contacts with the AKG are difficult to find and often not known.
The situation is even more precarious at technical colleges and private universities. No AKG has to be set up here. Whether there are contact points depends on the respective university and the goodwill of the rectorate or university management.
This situation has to change: Students must not be dependent on the arbitrariness of the universities if they are affected by sexual violence. A change in the law is needed that obliges all universities to set up an AKG with competencies and the right to intervene in the event of sexual violence. In addition, the AKGs must be made better known. All members of a university must be informed about the AKG when they join the university. One way of better publicity is that the AKGs have to be introduced in all introductory courses, or be given the opportunity to introduce themselves.
Sexual violence in society
Expanding the rights and opportunities of the working group is, however, only combating symptoms in a small, elitist area of society and does not solve the basic problem. The basic problem is that our society is still a "rape culture". What does that mean?
“Imagine the Christmas tree catches fire in an apartment, and soon the whole living room will be on fire. Somebody calls the fire department. But instead of driving off, it first asks: Are you absolutely sure that there is a fire? Are there witnesses? Have you acted negligently or possibly started the fire on purpose? Oh, you already have burns? You can also get them from baking cookies. Could it be that you just want to make yourself important? And don't you think it's a little bit awesome to see the flames and feel the heat? "
What sounds absurd in an apartment fire is commonplace with sexual violence and rape. In general, the person concerned is more likely to blame than the perpetrator. This is exactly what rape culture means: a society in which sexual violence is just as widespread as it is tolerated. And this is exactly where we have to start. Those affected * can no longer be blamed if they are affected by sexual violence, but rather the perpetrators. This has to be done at several construction sites.
- The first construction site is education. Even in kindergarten, children have to learn that saying “no” is the right thing to do and that their limits must be accepted. There are early childhood educational approaches that deal with the question of how this topic can be conveyed in a child-friendly manner - it just needs to find its way into our kindergartens. But also in school it is important to talk about limits in educational classes - about your own and those of others.
- The second construction site is the legal system. Our legal system protects perpetrators, not those affected. Only one percent of rapists are convicted in Austria. There are possibilities to design a legal system in such a way that those affected and not the perpetrators can be supported. An example of this is Sweden.
- The third construction site is media and advertising. Women * are still objectified and sexualized in media and advertising. In series, sexual violence is often played down. As examples are here How I Met Your Mother or Two and a Half Men called. Stricter rules must apply to how women * are portrayed.
Change is also long overdue in raising the awareness of people who work with those affected. Training is needed for police officers, lawyers and medical staff in dealing with affected people. And obviously, as the current case at WU shows, this must also apply to rectorates and university management.
Sandra Hochmayr is studying German and history to become a teacher at the University of Vienna. She * is active in the Association of Socialist Students and there women * spokeswoman * and also coordinates the queer political work.
Katrin Anna Walch is currently the federal chairwoman of the Association of Socialist Students in Austria and studies socioeconomics at the Vienna University of Economics and Sociology at the JKU Linz.
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