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Nightlife venues need to do more to prevent sexual harassment

2017-12-06

One in every four female students at Malmö University has been subjected to sexual harassment, according to a study conducted amongst almost 3000 of the university’s students. Many of the incidents happen in clubs, pubs, restaurants and other nightlife spots.

"Although this is primarily a question of culture and attitude, clubs and other venues need to take on a greater responsibility in ensuring that these environments are safer," says researcher and co-author of the study, Caroline Mellgren.

The results of the study are based on an in-depth analysis of a survey conducted by Mellgren in 2013, together with her colleagues Mika Andersson and Anna-Karin Ivert. In total, 2853 students responded to the survey – a response rate of 61 per cent. Twenty-five per cent of the respondents said that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact in the form or kissing, touching, fondling or groping. Some reported experiencing sexual harassment more than once during the 12-month period covered by the study, while over half stated that these incidents had occurred at a club or another public nightspot.

Although there are no earlier statistics from the university to compare the present study to, Mellgren notes that the proportion of women who said they had been subjected to harassment closely reflects numbers reported in other, similar studies.

“What is most striking about the data we collected is how normalised sexual harassment was among the women we surveyed; many felt that it was an unfortunate inevitability. They often excused or justified the perpetrator’s behaviour by saying things like ‘he was drunk and didn’t mean it, and I was drunk too’”, says Mellgren.

"Alcohol becomes the culprit when we should instead be asking what it is about these environments that fuels the perception that these are spaces where sexual harassment is permissible. Those crossing the boundaries of consent in such environments behave in ways that would never be considered acceptable in other contexts.”

The study encompasses incidents that would be classified as criminal offences, as well as experiences perceived as unpleasant and, above all, unwanted by the victim.

Very few of the students had reported the incidents described in the study to the police. However, Mellgren and her colleagues were mainly interested in assessing the effects of sexual harassment, even in less ‘severe’ cases, on the women’s everyday lives. Feeling anger repeatedly surfaced as the most common consequence of experiencing sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment certainly has consequences for the victims involved. Women are afraid to be harassed again, often avoid certain places, and worry about their body language and how they dress. We can see that harassment often leads to these kinds of behavioural adjustments,” Mellgren explains.

“Although these feelings are short-lived for some, others describe how their anger has developed into a general distrust and fear of men. Such tensions are certainly not good for our society.”

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya