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HFHR launches report on harassment at universities

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has published the report Harassment at Polish State Universities, which presents an analysis of the phenomenon of harassment, including sexual harassment, at Polish higher education institutions. The studies and analyses presented in the report were conducted in 2018 and 2019. The document also contains results of surveys carried out at 94 state universities all over Poland. The collected data covered the period 2010-2018. The report also discusses systems designed to address harassment in the university setting.

“The analysis of survey answers leads to the conclusion that Polish universities have been failing to take pro-active measures to prevent different kinds of harassment, including sexual harassment. Only 14 out of 93 universities have appointed a body responsible for addressing discrimination”, says Julia Gerlich, the author of the report. “Accordingly, it may reasonably be argued that universities do not have personnel capable of coordinating efforts aimed at preventing such phenomena, but also that victims of harassment do not know who to turn to for help”, she adds.

The report presents, among other things, specific issues related to discriminatory behaviour, as well as proposed legal models, good practices and recommendations. The HFHR report presents, among other things, specific issues related to discriminatory behaviour, as well as proposed legal models, good practices and recommendations.

Key conclusions

♦ According to the information received by the HFHR, the standard response to harassment (including sexual harassment) is the application of disciplinary procedures. There are no specific measures in place to ensure the safety and comfort of potential victims and provide due process guarantees for those who are accused of harassing behaviour;

♦ Almost every university has introduced anti-mobbing and anti-discrimination procedures, but they are addressed only to employees of a given institution;

♦ Few of the surveyed state universities decided to introduce policies addressed also to students, whose aim is to guarantee a friendly and non-discriminatory academic space;

♦ The data obtained show that the majority of Polish state universities do not take preventive measures and the response procedures introduced are not effective;

♦ The same conclusion may be drawn from a comparison of the studies conducted and presented by the Polish Ombudsman in the report The experience of harassment among students and the analysis of answers to the question concerning the number of reported cases of harassment. According to the report, 40.7% of university students have experienced harassment after entering university. 31.10% of the victims of harassment were men, 47% – women. According to the information obtained by the Foundation, in 2010-2018, in 50 cases of reported incidents, an inquiry or disciplinary proceedings was conducted in the context of discrimination or harassment, including sexual harassment. A comparison of the data presented above reveals that this type of behaviour is not reported to the bodies responsible for addressing cases of harassment at universities;

♦ The information collected for the purposes of the report may suggest that it is necessary to change the perception of harassment (including sexual harassment) at higher education institutions.

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