The case of sexual harassment at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana has finally resulted in an emergency session of the National Assembly, with the aim of resolving this issue in the academic space

Igor Pribac je bil soočen z očitki o spolnem nadlegovanju. (Foto: STA)

“Unofficial: the Senate of the University of Ljubljana has confirmed the decision of the Faculty of Arts, which means that Igor Pribac is no longer a professor at the University of Ljubljana,” journalist Bojan Požar wrote on Twitter. Recently, the SDS, SMC and NSi parliamentary groups have also filed a request to convene an emergency meeting of the Committee on Education, Science, Sport and Youth, in order to address the issue of sexual harassment in academia.

On Tuesday, the parliamentary groups SDS, SMC and NSi requested an emergency meeting of the Committee on Education, Science, Sport and Youth be convened, in order to address the issue of “sexual harassment in academia.” According to the parliamentary groups, the stories of sexual harassment in the academic space have been frequently reported on in the media for the last couple of years. So far, this issue has been addressed mainly through the prism of the employment of women and women in the workplace, stating that there are many different consequences of such harassment – the consequences can be psychological, emotional or physical in nature, and they include: fear, anger, shame, guilt, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, alcohol abuse, headaches, suicidal thoughts, and so on.

However, despite the serious consequences of such actions, there seems to be no real progress in this area in the academic field so far, especially with regard to the protection of victims from sexual harassment. This gives off the impression that “those responsible are trying to avoid the thorough analysis of the academic space, which would finally stop the repetitive actions of the humiliation of the weak, that a privileged part of the academic sphere – those in the position of power, can afford to carry out over and over again.” It was only when the topic became part of the public discourse, that certain victims gathered enough courage to be able to talk about the issue, but in this case, this was still mostly done anonymously. As it is also stated, “it is a very telling fact that only a handful of universities in Slovenia have an act on the protection of dignity of employees and students of the university.”

As they further state, the absence of an appropriate legal framework that would uniformly regulate the issue of sexual harassment in the field of the employee and student population in both universities, and independent higher education institutions, had led to the fact that, despite the confirmation of certain allegations of sexual harassment, the matter usually ends with the degradation of those who reported the incident, or with the expiration of the perpetrator’s term in his position of authority, and rarely with the extraordinary termination of the employment contract or even more severe punishment.
One of the latest such cases comes from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana. The process of determining the circumstances of the events is still ongoing. It is known, however, that the Senate of the Faculty of Arts, in this particular case of sexual harassment, adopted a special resolution, acknowledging the students for their courage to expose themselves in the process of reporting the harassment.

However, despite the fact that more than two months have already passed since the information has been disclosed and one year has passed since the statement about the already mentioned harassment has been made, we are still waiting for the Senate of the University of Ljubljana to make a move – to either confirm or reject the decision of the Senate of the Faculty of Arts and thus give a final decision on the fate of the perpetrator of this shameful act. According to the research that has been done at the Faculty of Arts, it has recently been established that this problem is mostly intra-generational, but it also partly relates to the academic sphere, so the lecturers. It is also known that, according to the results of the survey, most of these acts were committed by men; however, there are also some women among the perpetrators, but this share is much lower. At the same time, the research revealed the extent of sexual harassment in the academic space. The results of this research showed that as many as 38 percent of all respondents were victims of sexual violence. The survey included 182 women, 26 men and two people who do not identify with either of the two biological sexes.

The questionnaire listed 14 forms of sexual harassment, but none of the respondents experienced sexual coercion. The stigmatisation of victims can explain the low number of reports of such harassment. Only ten percent of the victims asked the perpetrators to stop with the inappropriate behaviour, and only one person out of the 80 representatives of the student population also reported such harassment to the faculty management. The proponents of the emergency parliamentary session note that the universities and faculties should do way more to ensure that the student population is informed about this problem, and they should also take more concrete steps to raise the awareness about the problem. It is not enough to only condemn the abuses and bad practices they should mainly be prevented. Concrete action needs to be taken to prevent such cases in the future.

The Committee has already proposed certain measures, including the need to prosecute the perpetrators of sexual offences in academia, and they also proposed to the universities and the higher education institutions that they should carry out thorough research into sexual harassment in the academic space, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and then, based on the results, draw up an act on the prevention of sexual harassment and immediate action without delay which should follow when the crime has already been committed. All higher education institutions should also adopt all the necessary measures within their competence, to immediately prevent further academic activities of all employees, against whom the reports have been filed or if there is a well-founded suspicion that a sexual offence has occurred.

Domen Mezeg