Help in case of sexual harassment

Sexualized violence has epidemic proportions: at least every second woman in Switzerland is subjected to sexualized violence. Men are also affected by sexualized violence, whereby this topic is still taboo. Sexualized violence is omnipresent - also at the university. The SUB survey of 2020 showed that 8% of students have already experienced sexual harassment. These numbers did not fall in the 2023 SUB survey either. Sexual harassment - a specific form of sexualized violence - is often perpetrated verbally by fellow students in the university context. The SUB fights all forms of discrimination and is committed to the protection and integrity of all. Individual boundaries must be respected and adhered to.

What is sexualized violence?

"Sexualised violence" is a political term introduced by activists to clearly distinguish violence from any consensual sexuality. Sexualized violence has nothing to do with sexuality or consensual pleasure. On the contrary, it is about the exercise of power and dominance as well as devaluation. Sexuality is instrumentalized in order to perpetrate violence. Because sexualized violence has to do with power relations and structures, it is widespread at universities. Sexualized violence in the university context is often perpetrated verbally or non-verbally (e.g. through glances). It can be perpetrated by fellow students as well as by teachers, outsiders, or administrative staff. The university environment, which is characterized by hierarchies and strong inequalities, makes the situation more difficult for those affected.

Sexualized violence
Discussion: Sexualized violence in institutions of higher education

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as any behaviour with a sexual connotation that is perceived by the affected person as unwanted and transgressive. It is important to highlight that sexual harassment is characterized not by the intention of the acting person, but rather by the way the targeted person perceives, receives or feels about this behavior. It can occur in words, gestures or deeds. Sexual harassment often involves the exercise of power and dominance. The sexual dimension comes to the fore because victims are particularly vulnerable in this area. Therefore, it is often difficult for the affected persons to defend themselves. 

What is the SUB doing against sexual harassment?

The SUB takes every report seriously and decides on the further course of action in each individual case. Since we do not have counselling competences in cases of sexual harassment, we have a triage function and provide information about the official contact points. If the person concerned wants us to, we accompany them in this process.

We draw attention to the contact points of the university and the counselling centre of the universities in Bern with various campaigns. On the national day of action against sexual harassment at universities in 2019,  an awareness workshop was organised. "Awareness" describes a concept that deals with problems in connection with disregard for physical, psychological and personal boundaries and even violence in public spaces. Awareness aims to find a way to name discrimination and transgressive behaviour and to actively counteract this behaviour. People who feel affected are supported and accompanied. The concept was implemented at the Feminist Strike and at the CAMPUS Festival.

Also as part of the action week "Wer zu nah kommt, geht zu weit" (Whoever comes too close goes too far) in the spring semester 2021, the SUB organized an awareness workshop for students - recognizing, addressing, and preventing discrimination. The workshop aimed to empower to respond to situations of abuse, as well as promote a culture of respectful dialogue, transparent communication and professional engagement to reduce discrimination. To achieve these goals, the workshop consisted of three parts: (1) privilege and societal power structures, (2) awareness concept and (3) support.

In the autumn semester of 2021, the SUB also participated in the nationwide campaign "16 Days against Violence against Women" with a focus on sexualised violence. You can find more information here. As part of the 16 Days of Action, the SUB organised a workshop in which students learned how to address boundary transgressions - as a person affected, an observer and a perpetrator.

What can I do?

Students have various possibilities to defend themselves as targeted persons against sexual harassment or to stand up for affected persons. On the one hand, the SUB wants to support targeted students to take courage and act. On the other hand, the SUB wants to encourage students who observe an incident to pay attention and take action.

Where can I get help?

As a member of the University of Bern, there are various contact points in the event of sexual harassment. All counselling centres offer free advice and support. Reporting sexual harassment is important to set an example and make these incidents visible. Because: Every incident of sexual harassment is one too many!

Counselling Centre Universities of Bern

The Counselling Centre Universities of Bern is the external contact point of the University of Bern for students and employees. The contact persons are bound to confidentiality and professional secrecy. They will only initiate further steps if this is explicitly requested. The counselling centre provides information about possible courses of action and accompanies discussions with those involved. The contact person is Pia Thormann, a psychologist for psychotherapy FSP,

University of Bern

Within the University of Bern, managers and the official internal contact points are subject to the duty to act. This means that incidents must be reported and action must be taken. Amongst others, The Office for equal opportunities is responsible for prevention and advice on how to proceed.

Useful links and information

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