A major new study of sexual harassment on college and university campuses has been released today. Here's how CNN reports it:
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. college students are affected by sexual harassment -- ranging from offensive jokes and gestures to touching and grabbing, according to a study released on Tuesday.
Men are more likely to harass than women, but women and men are equally likely to be harassed on U.S. campuses, according to a report by the American Association of University Women.
Researchers found that 62 percent of college students experienced sexual harassment, and 32 percent of college students said they were victims of physical harassment.
Intrigued by the assertion that men and women are equally likely to be harassed, I went to the AAUW website. After fiddling around a bit, I downloaded the PDF file of the whole report. You can get it from them, or you can get it from me here: Download DTLFinal.pdf
CNN's report makes the assertion that men and women are equally likely to be victimized, but the report itself (as summarized in the press release here) makes it clear that sexual harassment on campus inordinately burdens women:
Sexual harassment is affecting both male and female students. More than half of college students who’ve experienced harassment—both male and female—say they were upset by their experience. Yet the impact of sexual harassment is markedly differently for young women. Female students are more likely than their male peers to have negative behavioral and emotional responses to sexual harassment. Female students are more likely to take measures to avoid their harasser (48% versus 26%), to stay away from particular buildings or places on campus (27% versus 11%), to find it hard to study or pay attention in class (16% versus 8%), to have trouble sleeping (16% versus 6%) and to find someone to protect them (16% versus 4%).
The negative emotional responses are equally striking... female students who are harassed are more likely than male students to feel embarrassed, angry, less confident, and afraid. Nearly one-fifth of female college students who are harassed say they feel disappointed with their college experience- compared to eleven percent of male students.
Notably, our research also shows differences in the experiences and responses of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, who are not only more likely than heterosexual students to be harassed (71% versus 63%), but are also more likely to be embarrassed, angry, afraid and disappointed in their college experience as a result.
CNN mentions none of this.
I'm very concerned by the tone of the CNN report, and worried that other media outlets will simply broadcast a message of false equivalency: "both men and women are harassed." But will they also report that the overwhelming majority of harassers (of both men and women) are men? Will they report that women perceive the harassment as more serious and threatening, and are more likely to endure significant consequences that affect their education and their emotional health? CNN doesn't explore that (or offer a link to the actual report), and most of the folks who read the online news sources are unlikely to follow up.
One of the most destructive tactics of men's rights advocates has been to take certain issues that primarily concern the victimization of women (rape, domestic violence, divorce law, sexual harassment) and claim that men are -- at the least -- equally likely to be hurt by these. They will now gleefully point to stats that suggest that men and women are equally likely to be harassed on campus, without bothering to discuss the severity of the harassment or the long-term consequences for the victim. The AAUW study makes it clear that no legitimate argument for equivalency can be made when we take into account the actual impact sexual harassment has on the day-to-day lives of its victims. The question is, will the press get it right and report the full results of the study, which make abundantly clear that the vast majority of those who suffer the most severe consequences of campus sexual harassment are women.