The struggle against Sexual Harassment
We put forth a systemic analysis of the phenomenon of sexual harassment in academia. We advance a political discourse, that encourages taking responsibility for the wide-spread complicity in its perpetuation. Our team supports and accompanies victims of sexual harassment throughout the various stages of their struggle; organizes public events, gathers information from a broad range of institutions and sources, makes it accessible, and advocates for better institutional policies for handling reports and complaints.
Sexual harassment and abuse of power in academia are not private matters but are part and parcel of the institutional fabric and manifestations of power relations in the academic context. Sexual harassment is an effective means of intimidation, exploitation, and exclusion, that targets women particularly and removes them from fields and from positions of power. The harassment itself and an atmosphere of harassment generated by it ought to be understood as a political phenomenon that the entire academic community enables simply by maintaining silence, when it is in fact a matter that concerns everyone. Whether we know of it, or even only hear rumors of it, if we choose to do nothing about it, we practically activate a network of support that harassers have in academic institutions. This complicit support enables harassment to continue. Those suffering from harassment must not be left with the sole responsibility to fight it on their own. We must be active in pursuing measures to stop harassment and abuse of power and in ensuring a safe environment for lodging complaints, and demanding that they are properly treated. We define safe environment as an environment, where this pervasive phenomenon is discussed openly; it is an environment where harassers are made aware of the price they will pay for their actions.
Our team works in a number of distinct ways. We are supporting victims of harassment and we accompany them through all stages, from dealing with their perpetrator to the long and arduous process of lodging complaints through the often lengthy and damaging disciplinary and legal mechanisms deployed by the university. In addition we fulfill our obligation to report to the sexual harassment officers in institutions of cases and testimonies brought to our attention. We consult and inform the academic community of such testimonies and cases to break the complicity of silence. We drafted a set of recommendations and position papers (Hebrew) to improve the treatment of sexual harassment complaints and the procedures, documents that are used by a wide range of stakeholders and have been considered by a number of institutions.
Our team organized unprecedented events in an effort to raise awareness to our actions. On March 10th 2018 at Tel Aviv University we held a public event which drew not only officers in charge of treatment of harassment from a number of institutions but the rector of Tel Aviv university and his chief advisor on gender fairness as well. Rivi Gillis, leading our team, opened the event, surveying the current cross-institutional state of affairs, presented our findings, and drew attention to the limitations of the current legal and clinical discourses on harassment and treatment. We reframed the phenomenon as a political problem, and emphasized the need for change of institutional culture that entails acknowledging the responsibility of the academic community as a whole. We then gave a platform to “voices from the ground,” student groups and activists that addressed diverse issues such as the connection of the phenomenon in academia to general society, harassment in the LGBTQIA and the Palestinian context, and critique of the response of the academic community to testimonies and complaints. The event ended after an “open mic” part, which allowed members of the academic community to freely address issues concerning them and their community in an open, safe and trusting environment.
The conference was one successful form of advancing our mission to break the silence on the matter and hold our entire academic environments accountable. Our team work yields notable accomplishments and is impactful. Yet, with each step forward we are also made acutely aware of the fact that our struggle has still a long way to go.