Sexual harassment policy

Sexual harassment and other inappropriate sexual behavior. How to prevent it and what to do if you are
a victim.

The Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University (FSS MUNI) is a community of people who meet on its grounds in a variety of roles, and which at the same time takes deep pride in the quality of the interpersonal relations and maximum openness of communication.

FSS MUNI wants to create a safe, motivating, and dignified environment for students and staff. It builds a culture of respect, dignity, and integrity and places a strong emphasis on the prevention of sexual harassment, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, inappropriate verbal comments, and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. It condemns all forms of sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and expects all members of the Faculty community (students, staff, and contractors) to treat each other with mutual respect and consideration and to respect each other's rights. FSS MUNI wants to protect its students and employees from the above-mentioned forms of undesirable behavior.

What is sexual harassment/abuse/violence?

In general, sexual harassment can be defined as inappropriate and unwelcome behavior with sexual undertones that is only unilateral, meaning that it is done without the consent of the other person. The essence of sexual harassment (like other types of harassment) is the desire to gain, increase or assert one's dominance over another person. The following three areas are considered sexual harassment:

  • gender-based harassment,
  • unwelcome sexual attention (verbal and physical),
  • sexual blackmail and coercion.

What falls under these categories?

In general, the term "sexual harassment" can be used to describe various forms of psychological and physical pressure related to sexual behavior. Such behavior can create an unpleasant learning or working environment or atmosphere between students and lecturers or staff and supervisors, or between students or staff among themselves. It may take place not only in the classroom but also outside it - during consultations, internships, various off-campus excursions or in an environment completely outside the school; in the case of employees, most often during working hours and in the workplace; and in the case of all, at various social events (or after their end) organized by the faculty, its units, students or various associations.

Gender-based harassment refers to various types of behavior within the academic community that has elements of offensive, hateful, or degrading sexist attitudes based on gender stereotypes. This can include, for example, inappropriate sexual remarks, vulgar slurs, sexist remarks that denigrate a person, favoring or disadvantaging people based on their gender/sex, offensive comments about appearance, etc.

By unwelcome sexual attention, you can imagine unsolicited attempts to get close to a specific person. In the verbal (communicative) sphere, this could include inappropriate turning of the discussion towards topics with sexual undertones, repeated invitations for dates or offers of sex despite refusal, or sending unsolicited photos, pictures, or messages with sexual undertones. In the physical sphere, this includes intrusions into personal space or unsolicited touching.

Sexual blackmail and coercion are defined as the manipulation or use of physical force to coerce another person into sexual behavior. This can include offering benefits in return for intimacy or, alternatively, threats if such intimacy is refused (e.g., awarding credits, an exam or good grades, a promotion, a financial reward or other benefits), stalking, whether physical or electronic and sexual assault, rape or attempted sexual assault or rape.

FSS MUNI supports the following principles:

  • respect for human dignity,
  • emphasis on a safe environment where everyone is treated fairly and with respect,
  • the unacceptability of any verbal or physical harassment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, offensive, or humiliating to a person.

All members of the faculty (students, staff) have the right to expect professional behavior from others and are, at the same time, responsible for their own behavior towards others.

Faculty members have a personal responsibility to uphold the following principles:

  • treat others with dignity and respect,
  • to not tolerate any form of harassment,
  • support anyone who feels they have been harassed, including providing links to external help and psychological support for lodging a formal complaint if necessary.

FSS MUNI has a clearly defined mechanism by which complaints of possible sexual harassment can be addressed.

How to proceed?

First of all, it is important to know that any activity with sexual undertones without the consent of the other person is unacceptable. We want to foster an environment in which it is natural to object to such activity and behavior.

We will not tolerate inappropriate sexual behavior and do our utmost condone or minimize it. We don't want you to blame yourself, to avoid the perpetrator of sexual harassment by, for example, dropping a course or even dropping out of your studies, resigning from your job, etc.

If you are not sure whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you can contact the faculty contact person Mgr. Gabriela Vybíralová or Ing. Jan Písařík, or the employees can contact the MUNI Counselling Centre at Students can also use the MUNI Psychological Counselling. You can contact external non-profit organizations dealing with the topic of sexual harassment (e.g., Modrá linka, which runs a helpline, or the organization Persefona, which focuses specifically on domestic and sexual violence). Also the students can use these organizations.

Faculty contact persons are also available for those who have been accused of harassment and feel unfairly harmed by the accusation.

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or violence:

  • Don't blame yourself for what happened to you. It's not your fault, your mistake, or something to feel shame about. The responsibility for inappropriate behavior always lies with the person who committed it.
  • Tell someone about what happened to you. Try to talk to someone you trust and feel safe with. This could be a friend, a favorite professor, a colleague, a nonprofit organization that addresses sexual harassment (such as Modrá linka, or the organization Persefona), a student advisor, your department chair, or a faculty designated person (Faculty contact persons: Gabriela Vybíralová and Ing. Jan Písařík), members of the FSS MUNI Academic Senate from the student chamber and the chamber of the academic staff.
  • All contact persons are bound by strict rules of confidentiality, violation of which will be severely sanctioned.
  • If possible, keep materials that capture inappropriate behavior (emails, phone texts, print screens, recordings, etc.). Ask classmates, colleagues, or other actors who can confirm what happened, for their testimony. However, we will treat your testimony just as seriously even if you do not have such materials available.
  • If you have decided to pursue your matter, please speak under your own name, although we know this may be very difficult for you. We will never proceed further with a case without your continued consent and permission.
  • If you want to resolve the situation yourself and express your disagreement, we recommend written communication. It's a good idea to start by writing an email to the person about how you find his/her behavior disturbing, inappropriate, and intolerable. The message should state what specifically bothers you and why, along with a suggested course of action. If there is no change, you can contact the contact persons for further action.

It is also possible to report sexual harassment that you have witnessed. However, in this case, the person being harassed must agree to it.

In all cases, only people who you know about in advance and who agree can be informed will be given detailed information to deal with. Everyone involved in the process is bound by strict rules of confidentiality. If you suspect that a crime has been committed, contact the Police.

How do you respond when someone confides in you about an experience of sexual harassment?

  • Communicate respectfully, supportively, and with confidence to the person who has confided in you. Do not question the credibility of their claims or belittle their feelings.
  • Don't change the subject or ask questions that might make the person feel like they are the guilty party in the situation.
  • Do not suggest to the person that they should have behaved differently or that they themselves are to blame for the unpleasant or violent act.
  • Reassure the person that any of their emotional reactions are normal and natural.
  • Let the person know that you appreciate the trust they have placed in you.
  • Explain to the person what options they have for dealing with the situation. Refer them to this document.
  • If the person ultimately decides not to deal with the situation further, express your understanding, but also your support should they change their mind in the future.
  • If they decide to report the case, support them and offer to help.

Of course, all of the above options also apply if you (as an employee) are being harassed by a student; just as if you, as a student, are being harassed by another student.

If it is proven that the individual filing the complaint knew that his/her complaint was unfounded or fabricated, disciplinary proceedings will be initiated against them or a complaint will be filed with the MUNI Ethics Board.

The FSS MUNI procedure following a report of sexual harassment is as follows:

  1. If you contact the faculty contact person or a member of the academical senate by email, you will receive an email no later than two business days after receiving a report of any form of sexual harassment or violence with a proposed date for a meeting to be attended by you, the contact person, and possibly other persons suggested by you (e.g., a friend) or suggested by the contact person and agreed upon by you. Of course, you can also contact the contact person or the Dean in person.
  2. The subject of the meeting will be to discuss the situation and options for further action. First of all, we will provide you with psychological support and help. Then we will discuss what has happened to you. Last but not least, we will try to ensure that your studies will not be affected by reporting the incident. The case will also be discussed anonymously with relevant professionals (i.e. a lawyer, sexual harassment expert, or psychologist). The reason for this consultation is to determine whether sexual harassment has occurred, what the rights of the persons involved are, and what the appropriate course of action would be. A record of each meeting will be made and will remain confidential.
  3. If you then do not wish to take the situation further, the complaint will simply be registered. In the event that you agree, the person against whom the report has been made will be informed of this fact, preferably while preserving the anonymity of the reporting party, and informed of the inappropriateness of such behavior.
  4. If such a procedure makes sense, it is possible (if both parties agree) to organize a joint meeting at which a third independent party (a mediator) would be present. The purpose of the meeting is primarily to clarify the situation and to encourage both parties to communicate with each other.
  5. In addition to the options described above, the meetings may result in faculty support for you concerning legal and psychological counseling, or a consensus that the report is unfounded or that the hearing itself led to a remedy.
  6. If you and the contact person or other persons involved conclude that this is a serious case of sexual harassment/assault, the Dean of the Faculty will be involved in the next steps as he is the only person who can impose employment and/or legal consequences.

Useful links:

FSS MUNI will not tolerate sexual harassment and is prepared to use adequate means a sanctions to prevent such negative behaviour. Adequate means in relation to faculty members include, for example, reprimand, temporary revoking of bonuses connected to personal evaluations, or even termination of employment. Concerning students, this may be a reprimand, conditional suspension, or the unconditional expulsion from studies, after a discussion with the Faculty Disciplinary Committee. The same means may be also used in the case of a deliberately false accusation of sexual harassment.

Inspired by the Charles University website and the handbook Kuruc, A., Valkovičová, V. (2020). What to do about sexual harassment? A handbook for universities. Bratislava: Inštitút pre výskum práce a rodiny.

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