Reported sexual harassment falls below national average

By Jewel Della Valle

One in four women on American college campuses have been victims of sexual harassment, according to a study released recently by the American Association of University Women. But statistics suggest the number doesn’t apply to Northeastern.

Of the thousands of students, faculty and staff on campus, 27 reported being sexually harassed last year. The statistics, from the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity, do not classify reports by gender, but Laura Weiss, a counselor at the University Health and Counseling Services, said they are most likely complaints from women, since men are far less likely than women to report sexual harassment.

“I think certainly men are sexually harassed as well,” Weiss said. “And perhaps because of the way gender is perceived in our society, it’s supposed to be a good thing if you’re being flirted with or someone’s making sexual comments to you.”

Dana Moussa, a sophomore international affairs major, said the statistics seem too low.

“I think there is more sexual harassment that goes on, and people just don’t talk about it,” Moussa said.

But John Mazcko, a senior music major, believes the numbers are about right.

“[Sexual harassment] doesn’t seem like it’s that huge of a thing around campus right now,” Mazcko said, “but people are probably less likely to report it if they don’t know what it is.”

Defining sexual harassment leaves a gray area about how often it occurs, Weiss said.

Northeastern policy defines sexual harassment in part as “sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

Audrey Ranieri, a junior health science major, said even if people have a consistent definition of harassment, they are often hesitant to report it.

“I think a lot of people think of sexual harassment the same way but are scared to report things like comments that people make to one another, because they’d be afraid of getting people in trouble over small things,” Ranieri said.

Sexual harassment goes unreported and undetected for a variety of reasons, whether a victim doesn’t know he or she was sexually harassed or is too fearful of the consequences to report it, Weiss said.

“I think for a lot of people there is a fear of retribution if there is an allegation or if they try to go forward with a claim, that somehow their job will be in jeopardy or their co-op,” Weiss said. “It’s kind of dependent on the circumstances, that somehow they’ll lose out on things in their life [if they report it].”

All students interviewed for this story said if they were sexually harassed, they probably would not know where to go.

Sexual harassment complaints can best be handled by contacting a member of the university’s Sexual Harassment Network, whose information can be found on the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity’s Web site, www.aa.neu.edu.

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