InterRuta against sexual harassment
Sexual harassment can be defined as any practice that has a sexual connotation that is unwanted and has the potential to cause harm to the person who receives it. We can identify sexual harassment using three characteristics; the sexual content (explicit or implicit), the non-reciprocity and the discomfort it causes.
Although this form of violence is a daily reality for female university students living in Guatemala, to date there is very little information on the topic. Higher education institutions haven’t conducted any research regarding the problem, and therefore lack specific methodologies and protocols to address and prevent sexual harassment within their institutions. Given the absence of these tools, the women uniting through Red Interuniversitaria Seguras y Educadas -RISE- (also known as the Safe and Educated Interuniversity Network) have listed a number of proposals.
RISE is a platform for inter-university cooperation that formulates proposals to prevent and address sexual harassment, and compensate its victims. Our work focuses on three areas: research, feminist activism and education. The network was founded in 2020 from various students’ resolution to combat the daily occurrence of sexual harassment at the universities of Guatemala. Women and dissidents are part of a social fabric that, damaged by structural violence, condemns their freedom and bodies by repeating a cycle of normalized violence. For this reason we decided to unite, regardless of the authorities’ ignorance towards allegations of sexual harassment.
RISE’s efforts focus on the pursuit of justice and the construction of a culture of denunciation, based on research, education and feminist activism. As a united network of students, we assume responsibility for the gathering of data that can function as a guide for evidence-based decision-making and the development of mechanisms that prevent and address sexual harassment, and compensate its victims. With that goal in mind, we conducted the first Exploratory Study on sexual harassment in private universities in the metropolitan area of Guatemala, which is an investigative process that we carried out from 2020 to 2022.
Through a survey directed at university students in the metropolitan area, we collected 174 reports of sexual harassment linked to private universities. The data obtained through the study showed that the population most affected by sexual harassment are women (representing 94.87% of the reported incidents).
Moreover, the study found that the violence occurs most often in academic spaces such as classrooms, laboratories, libraries and auditoriums, representing 39.7% of the incidents. We also found that 98.3% of the perpetrators are men, and 66.7% of the perpetrators are known to the victims; 5 out of 10 hold professorships within the university. In other words, the presence of a power relationship facilitates the occurrence of violence.
In turn, it is recognized that academic spaces such as classrooms, laboratories, libraries and auditoriums are the places where this violence occurs the most, representing 39.7%. Regarding who are the people who perpetrate the harassment, we identified that 98.3% are men, and 66.7% are people known to the victims; 5 out of 10 of them hold professorships within the university. In other words, there is a power relationship that makes it easier for violence to occur.
Finally, the data collected shows the inefficiency of the university authorities when reporting these events, since 2 out of 10 women who have decided to report, only one person perceives that their complaint has been resolved or that they have been provided with some type of repair. In addition, 80.7% of the people who filled out the survey indicated that they do not know if their university has some type of service mechanism.
This study demonstrates the seriousness of sexual harassment within universities, but in particular, it supports RISE’s motives for demanding that the corresponding authorities recognize sexual harassment as a public problem and that they work to transform the culture of cover-up and institutionalized silence.
We are aware that these transformative processes will not be possible without the involvement of women. Likewise, at RISE we consider it essential that this investigative exercise can be replicated in other departments and that we will soon have data at the national level.
That is why, during May and June 2023, RISE will be implementing the “InterRuta: Safe and Educated”, a dialogue process in Petén, Chimaltenango, Quetzaltenango and Huehuetenango, with the hope that the consolidation of alliances and action plans common among women students from different territories, allow progress in this fight for safe educational spaces for all people.