Performing to the best of your ability, whether on your study program, in the scientific sector or in your career is only possible in a working environment where everyone feels comfortable. It is not possible to create such an environment when boundaries are crossed, such as in the case of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and other forms of violence. The University of Stuttgart takes its responsibilities very seriously and works hard to provide a working environment characterized by respect and appreciation, where behavior that damages the honor and integrity of others, or that limits their legal rights or freedom is not tolerated.
Beginning in March, and during the summer semester 2021, the University of Stuttgart will be taking part in the information campaign “Draw a red line” [de], which will provide information about various aspects of and solutions for this issue.
What is sexual harassment?
In short, sexual harassment is verbal, nonverbal or physical sexual or sexualized behavior at university or at work. Such behavior is offensive, insulting, humiliating and objectionable. Sexual harassment includes telling sexist jokes, making insinuations or derogatory comments and actions, making an exhibition of someone, or distributing pornographic material, as well as unwanted physical contact, or taking advantage of someone if you are in a position of power.
In such situations, the perspective of the person affected is important. What one person might find funny, is seen as harassment by someone else.
It is primarily women who are affected by harassment and in most cases, there is an existing or supposed power imbalance or rivalry. When men experience harassment, it is usually from someone at the same hierarchical level as themselves, or from a third-party. Trans people and other LGBTQ+ can be particularly vulnerable and in that case also need special support.
- It is not a about "banning flirting". It is important to understand when a certain behavior is not flirtatious, but rather sexual harassment. Flirtatious behavior is desired by both parties and voluntary, both parties are "on the same level" and a "no" is always respected. In cases of sexual harassment, one person actively fails to respect the boundaries of the other person. The behavior is unwanted and discriminating and an imbalance of power often exists. A decisive point is not the perspective of the person committing the undesired behavior, but that the breaking of boundaries is not wanted by the other person, who feels they are being harassed.
- It is important to set boundaries, but this can be difficult for the affected person due too an imbalance of power or the initial perceived ambivalence of the situation. If the affected person "laughs off" a situation, this is not too be interpreted as agreement or acceptance.
- It is not about "not being allowed to do anything anymore". Those who have understood the problematic no longer participate in a culture of sexualized comments or jokes that normalize a lack of respect for boundaries. They react respectfully, thus making a valuable contribution to a positive learning or working atmosphere.
- Of course, not all men partake in harassment. Furthermore, there are also women who harass men and other constellations between men, women and non-binary people, for example. Taking a defensive stance, such as not wanting to be associated with "that" is a natural human reaction, but it doesn't solve the problem. It is important to be aware of the situation and to support the person affected.
Contacts and support
Problems of this kind are not a new phenomenon and our university is part of society and not immune to such issues. Many years ago, we designated points of contact for those affected by sexual harassment, based on official legislation (German Constitution, Equality Act, State Higher education Act, etc.). These contact persons are currently Christine dos Santos Costa and Dr. Klaus Dirnberger. If required, they conduct confidential meetings with those affected - even on an anonymous basis if necessary. They offer advice and mediate and the case will only be forwarded to the relevant university department with the permission of the person affected. An illustration showing possible complaint channels, guidelines for managers, people close to the affected person and the person affected, as well as more detailed information can be found on the webpage “university without discrimination”.
With the new amendments to the State Higher Education Act (LHG), all university members are collectively responsible for ensuring that there are structures in place that guarantee that cases of sexual harassment are dealt with appropriately. The contact persons are now under obligation to submit a report to the senate and a committee will also be formed to deal with such cases. The Ministry of Science has also designated a specialized attorney of choice to advise in difficult cases.
It is of paramount importance that we create a learning and working environment characterized by mutual respect and appreciation. Please take the time to find out more about this and make sure you act if you witness unacceptable behavior. Supervisors and managers, those affected by sexual harassment and witnesses particularly require your support.