The Women’s Academic Network (WAN) Symposium on Sexual Harassment in Academia

Sexual harassment in academia was the serious and, as our eminent keynote speakers demonstrated, woefully neglected subject of the 3rdAnnual Women’s Academic Network (WAN) Symposium on the 29thof May, 2019.

Eva Tutchell, an expert education adviser working with all age groups on gender issues, and John Edmonds, former General Secretary of the GMB trade union and Visiting Fellow of Kings College London and a Visiting Professor at Durham University Business School, presented their current research. Their study is an incisive and eye-opening account of the scale of sexual harassment among both staff and students in higher education. In particular they highlighted the difficulties faced by victims and survivors when they try to seek help and report incidents, especially the failure of universities to develop clear and accessible policies and procedures until engulfed by a sexual abuse scandal. We very much look forward to the publication of their book later this year: Unsafe Spaces: Ending sexual abuse in Universities.

WAN co-founder Heather Savigny, a Professor at De Montfort University, identified the pernicious ways in which the online abuse of female academics has the effect of discriminating against them in relation to REF and Impact outcomes. This on-line abuse can discouraged women academics from maintaining the high profile and public engagement which can form the core criteria of dissemination, reach and impact. Heather’s research indicates that on-line abuse is a form of ‘cultural sexism’ that can serve to ‘silence’ of women. She wryly noted that her own experiences of on-line abuse while patently demonstrating ‘impact’ were not counted as such.

Finally Peter Hills, Head of the Psychology Department at BU, reviewed his research with undergraduates which worryingly revealed the gulf in their judgement of consent in relation to a variety of scenarios from consensual sex to sexual harassment and abuse. Dr. Hills’ aim is to find more effective ways of communicating the important message that only a verbally expressed ‘yes’ counts as consent.

The talks generated much lively discussion and ideas for future research. The topic of sexual harassment in academia will be followed up in forthcoming WAN events.

If you would like to join WAN please contact Frances, Lorraine, Jayne or Sara: