Gender-Based Harassment: A Reality on Campus?

PART 3: PROCESS-BASED INDICATORS

How can victims of sexual crimes on campus find redress? How equipped is our institute to deal with the consequences of a highly skewed gender ratio? In this part of the survey analysis, we look at the support systems and mechanisms on campus for dealing with gender-based harassment and their effectiveness.

How many of our respondents who reported facing issues with interacting with those of the other sex actually sought professional support for these issues? The numbers were quite low for respondents of all categories — less than 5% in all cases.

We then moved on to the explicit acts of harassment and assault that we listed before. Of all the male-identified respondents who reported facing such acts (84), 6% sought professional support, and of the female-identified respondents who reported facing such acts (149), a much greater percentage 20% sought professional support. This may mean that there are significant hurdles facing males who have faced sexual harassment in terms of support. The reasons could be absence of even legal recognition and the fear of stigma. On the whole, the low percentages of those who seek support, whatever their identification, indicates that there needs to be a more conducive environment on campus that encourages victims to report crimes and seek support.

We were also interested in the channel that was most commonly used for seeking support within campus. The options we gave included mitr, faculty members who hold administrative positions and the CCASH (Committee for Complaints Against Sexual Harassment).

In case of male-identified respondents and respondents who identify differently, the number of respondents who approached formal channels within the institute seem to be evenly distributed across channels. In case of female-identified respondents, administrative members and security section are the channels that they most approached, with CCASH and mitr ranking the lowest. The low number of people who have approached CCASH (merely 6 respondents in total) is also indicative of the need for greater awareness about the body. On the bright side, the percentages of respondents — male, female or differently identifying — who sought support outside the campus is very low. This could mean that there is great scope for redressal within the existing systems in our campus.

We also asked the respondents about their satisfaction with the action taken. In this case, the numbers of respondents who were satisfied, and those who weren’t, were very close within each gender category.

 

Nevertheless, those who were dissatisfied form a significant percentage of all those who sought formal support.

 

PART 4: SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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We took this opportunity to ask students what they thought would help bring down sexual crimes and misdemeanors. The responses we got were largely well thought-out and insightful, and we summarize them here:

  • Creating a conducive environment for interaction between the opposite sexes, such as common working areas, common messes and co-ed hostels; in general, calling for gender neutral facilities.
  • Awareness programs, open discussions and debates leading to gender sensitization- for this, the Life skills course and CCASH activities can be channelled.
  • Awareness to faculty and security guards so that they are not judgemental regarding interaction between sexes, attire etc.
  • Awareness regarding what is considered proper behaviour towards both sexes – implement measures so that unacceptable actions have clear consequences. To carry this out, use CCASH, facilitate better awareness among guards and faculty and non-academic staff.
  • Many of the suggestions involved compulsory sensitisation initiatives, particularly for freshies, and in conjunction with the Life Skills course.

 

There were also quite a few respondents who felt that no easy solution was possible, largely for the following reasons:

  • Gender conditioning starts from home, and cannot be removed just through a few actions here.
  • As long as the skewed sex ratio prevails, the situation will not change.

PART 5: SOME COMMENTS, EXPERIENCES AND REACTIONS

Several of our questions avoided bounded options and gave respondents space to speak about what they thought. Across 815 responses, a wide range of opinions were expressed, and many stories were shared. Taking special care to remove identifying markers, we present a selection of unedited responses:

 

  • “A lot of people come from homes where it is advised not to talk to people of the opposite sex. I feel really disgusted when I hear some of the comments passed by batchmates regarding girls and the ‘ethics’ they should follow. The institute should take cognitive steps to make sure that there is an environment for a healthy relationship between two individuals of the opposite sex. Even parents of the students should be taught a lesson.”
  • “Just sit people down and really tell them what is wrong. It seems to me the major issue is ignorance. They aren’t willing to believe that harassment is real. And they don’t understand what happens to the harassed and how challenging it is to just get out of your room when you know someone out there is capable of hurting you. It’s traumatic. And if the general public knows explicitly what goes on, maybe the empathy will increase and the tendency to say “why don’t you just ignore it?”,”he just likes you”,”stop friend zoning him” will decrease.”
  • “Instigate people into having debates and discussions. Not fancy official events or panel discussions… but informal discussions among friends, wing mates, dept mates, lab workers, etc. At events, people come to win. But among the ones they trust.. they are more willing to consider other opinions and change their own.”
  • “This might sound counter intuitive, but I think greater opportunity should be given for male and female students to interact with each other like normal people. A good percentage of guys have very little interaction with females, which results in some guys subconsciously thinking of girls only in a sexualized manner and not like how it would be between friends. A lot of this could possibly be attributed to the skewed sex ratio on campus and I don’t know what we could do to fix that. Also, there is this unhealthy competition among guys to try and get a girlfriend in insti as soon as possible. While most people might be respectful in their attempts, some might not be. I think a lot of guys might not even know that their actions might qualify as sexual harassment.”
  • “Better screening for security personnel, maybe? And more informed officers who speak English, so that when I complaint about a man masturbating in front of me, they get the point and understand that it is an assault. So that I don’t have to run around to get the term in Tamil and educate them.”
  • “Our insti is still ages behind as it provides a very insecure and stereotyped environment for same-sex relationships.”
  • “International Students, especially girls, should be given respect and protected. They get stares from all sections of people in IIT ranging from security personnel to mess workers and pathetically students also. Moreover, it’s a bad image on our country.”
  • “Sensitisation should be compulsory for mess staffs, security staffs, vendors in SFC, Non teaching and teaching staffs. I have encountered many time they behave inappropriately around girls. However, I have personally not experienced this or none from my friends circle have encountered this.”
  • I avoided huge swaths of the campus population because they would treat me with kid gloves/act overly chivalrous/condescend/make insistent advances. This is a very serious problem and it detracted from my educational experience.”
  • “I would like you to suggest girls to wear proper dresses which reflects about their thinking,personality and dignity. I understand that I am nobody to tell this and this suggestion may not even be suggested to a single girl, but it creates lot of unease n a sense of western(“unindian”) culture in an indian environment. After all, it’s our “INDIAN” institute of technology “
  • Just yesterday I was walking back from a movie with two of my friends, we were just a 100 metres away from insti velachery gate. And a guy spanked my ass while speeding away on his bike. Now, how am i supposed to do anything about this? I was just left there, my buttcheeks feeling numb. Helpless. Dirty. Ashamed. shocked. Enraged. I wished with all my heart that i could kill him. Because these are the very guys who eventually become rapists. If given a chance with thee safety of noone ever finding out, He will surely do it. Don’t you think?
  • While going through this questionnaire I realized that certain acts or remarks that I have made could be considered as sexually inappropriate. But I wouldn’t have known that if hadn’t gone through this. So yes gender sensitization would definitely help.
  • No, but common sense surely is. What kind of ridiculousness is “felt or made uncomfortable”? Did you feel uncomfortable?? Oh so now harassment isnt defined by the action being done its defined as the perception of action is it?? I should be scared since you must have gotten super offended reading my answer hence you must have felt uncomfortable and are now going to complaint about harassment cause you dont want to hear the truth, want to shut me up and “teach me a lesson for daring to disagree”. Plus what kind of bullshit is “someone masturbating in front of you”???? And What the hell is “etc”??? Anyone daring to even speak of such ridiculousness “hey i am gonna start in front of you” invites strictest disciplinary action, immediate suspension and also a police complaint. This is IIT Madras and people here are not full of bullshit as you are expecting them to be. (Oh please keep your hypocritical chameleon like colour changing denial to yourself the phrase you wrote above speaks volumes about how you think men and boys are just perverts with no sense of where they are and what they are… much more than you, they know they are students of IIT, they are being taught by great teachers, that they have to maintain the decorum and honour, and you expect that they’d be masturbating in front of others??? RIDICULOUS!! You bring sickening shame to IIT Madras by expecting this of us. Have you no father or brother? Have you no respect for the male profs? Please Quit IIT. You are absolutely impossible and a huge disgrace. Even the debt ridden farmer who is committing suicide, even his taxes are being used to run IIT and drive India ahead and you expect masturbation here? THIS IS ABSOLUTELY SICKENING Just What is this!!! This is IIT Madras, and i take great pride in my teachers. the alumni and the institute of excellence itself. I am minding my language and keeping my decorum else I would openly say “this is IIT Madras, Not your house! where you may be expecting open masturbation and god knows what that “etc” that you wrote”
  • Nothing…like whatever I write here matters. Its just a survey so you can divert students’ attention to random things rather than actual problems….. T5E, aren’t you the guys who publish articles about drinking, drugs, harassment and all when we all student worry about mess food, research, profs pressure and money.
  • Don’t hold meetings and put up posters and stuff. Those are boring.

 

CONCLUSION

There is no dearth of discussion around us when it comes to sexual crimes and gender-based issues. However, the discussions end up being either polemical or aggressive, and there is a need to break out of this to engage in meaningful dialogue instead. As the previous section shows, there are many who feel strongly about the issue, whatever be their stance

Between those who are striving to have their voice heard and those who refuse to accept even the existence of such an issue, what we need to create are practicable solutions. In that spirit, we hope this survey will at least help us break out of our popular perceptions about notions of safety, security and incidence of sexual harassment on campus.

As the astoundingly high numbers of victims within this sample of 815 proves without doubt, the time has come for dialogue and decisive action. A particularly serious finding is that the majority of perpetrators are students. From the administration’s side, this survey exposes serious deficiencies in support systems, especially in the security section on campus and lack of reach of support mechanisms such as CCASH. We hope these will be recognized and addressed sincerely.

***

 

*For details, refer to Wikipedia or the Amendment document itself.

**Indian laws on crimes of a sexual nature only recognize women as victims, and there is therefore no legal definition of sexual crimes against persons of other genders such as men or transgender persons.

*** It was pointed out to us that this question is biased in two ways: on the one hand, it precluded the problems faced by those attracted to the same sex while socializing, and it also excluded people belonging to gender identities that may not necessarily identify an “opposite sex” as the object of desire (such as genderqueer persons).

****The legal definition of the term “sexual assault” was not given in the survey; respondents may have used varying definitions.

^ The totals are therefore, not indicative of actual numbers of respondents.

***

If you would like to reach out to us for feedback or to suggest ideas for future surveys, please do so at t5e.iitm@gmail.com.

 

 

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
Content copyright: The Fifth Estate, IIT-M's Student Media Body. For permissions to reuse part or whole of the content, email us at t5e.iitm@gmail.com

Abhishek Kelkar

Another confused teenager and a blogger