Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 5, 1996

Sexual harassment survey: Most harassment complaints resolved through informal process

by Linda Charles
Most incidents of sexual harassment reported on campus are resolved informally, an Affirmative Action survey shows. However, three Iowa State employees were terminated over the past four years for sexual harassment.

"The primary goal of the sexual harassment policy is to stop the objectionable behavior," said associate affirmative action officer Jan Padgitt. "We will discipline an employee when the circumstances are warranted."

Padgitt said 24 percent of 144 administrators surveyed said they had received complaints or observed sexually harassing behavior involving faculty, staff, student employees or students within their units during the last academic year.

While 103 administrators reported no incidents of sexual harassment, 32 reported they had handled a total of 44 incidents. (Another five incidents were handled by the Affirmative Action Office during that period.)

Most of the incidents involved a sexually harassing environment, Padgitt said. A sexually harassing environment can include such things as sexual or gender-based comments, cartoons, jokes, calendars and pictures.

Ten of the incidents involved sexual advances, touching or demands for sexual favors.

Of the reported incidents, 39 were resolved informally within the unit and four were still pending at the time of the survey. Only five of the incidents involved or would involve a formal complaint.

Informal complaints
Informally handling a report usually involves talking to the person who reported the action and to the person accused, Padgitt said. The fact-finding investigation required by a formal complaint is not necessary with an informal complaint.

"Many informal complaints result from confusion or disagreement over what an incident means," Padgitt said. For example, a male faculty member might suggest discussing a problem with a female colleague over drinks. The woman is uncomfortable with the situation and doesn't know whether the invitation is strictly business or partly social. These types of situations often can be cleared up by insisting that business be conducted at the office.

In other cases, clearly spelling out expected forms of behavior may resolve sexual harassment complaints, Padgitt added.

"A formal investigation can be a harrowing experience -- lengthy and upsetting," Padgitt said. "Also, many of those who report sexual harassment want to proceed informally because they don't want to hurt the other person."

Of the 44 reported incidents, six were deemed by the administrators to be unfounded. The survey does not indicate which of the incidents cited were deemed without merit. Information on one of the incidents was incomplete and not included in the survey results.

Most are satisfied with resolution
In 34 of the incidents, those who complained about sexual harassment were satisfied with the resolution of their complaints. One complainant was not satisfied and administrators were not sure if complainants were satisfied in eight of the incidents.

All kinds of sexual harassment are taken very seriously at Iowa State, Padgitt said. The public often does not see the time and effort or the discipline involved in sexual harassment cases because of the confidentiality involved.

"We're dealing with personnel issues," Padgitt said. "The person who has been disciplined has a right to confidentiality. In most circumstances, we're not going to tell the whole world what happened."

From 1992 to 1995, three ISU employees lost their jobs for sexually harassing behavior, she added. Other disciplines include allowing the harasser to resign, suspension without pay and demotion.

Power issue
Among the cases of sexual harassment reported in the survey, faculty were most frequently named as harassers (16 cases). Merit staff were named as the harassers in nine incidents, P&S and undergraduate students were named in six incidents each, off-campus individuals and graduate students were cited in two incidents, and graduate students and administrators were cited in one incident.

Merit staff were cited as the victims in 15 incidents (in six of these cases, the alleged harasser also was a merit employee). Undergraduate students were reported to be the victims in nine cases, graduate assistants in six cases, graduate students in five, P&S staff in three and faculty in two.

These figures are not surprising, Padgitt said, since sexual harassment revolves around power. "It tends to be people in higher positions harassing people in lower positions," she said.

While the survey figure of 44 incidents is relatively low, Padgitt said there are likely to be more cases that went unreported. "We can't afford to get smug about it," she said.

Options for action
Padgitt said there are several options for people who believe they are being sexually harassed:

-- Confront the harasser yourself.

-- Talk to an assistor. Assistors can provide information about sexual harassment and options for addressing it, and are knowledgeable about ISU's policy and resolution processes. Both the sexual harassment policy and a list of campus assistors can be accessed through the "Policies & Handbooks" category on Iowa State's homepage on the World Wide Web.

-- Talk to your supervisor or an administrator. Most administrators on campus have had training in how to deal with sexual harassment complaints.

-- File a formal complaint with the Affirmative Action Office, 214 Beardshear.

-- File a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

"We would hope that people would give the Affirmative Action Office a chance to deal with the situation before filing a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission," Padgitt said. "But that is always an option. It's part of what keeps us honest -- knowing there's a potential for a lawsuit."

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