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Gender-based violence common in the higher education sector

Two out of three employees and students in higher education have experienced gender-based violence, a European research study shows.

Linus Hellerstedt

Almost two thirds, 62 per cent, of the 42,000 students and employees at 46 universities and colleges in 15 European countries who responded to a study carried out within the EU project Unisafe have experienced gender-based violence to some extent.

Of these, 57 per cent stated that they have been the target of psychological attacks and 31 per cent that this was in the form of sexual harassment. But 6 per cent have also been subjected to physical violence, with 3 per cent stating that this was sexual violence.

Aims to counteract violence
The purpose of the study is to develop tools to counteract gender-based violence, explains Sofia Strid, a researcher at Gothenburg University and scientific leader of the project. She defines gender-based violence as societal inequality and an expression of power. It can take the form of physical, financial, psychological or sexual violence.

“What is common to all these forms,” says Strid, “is that the violence is primarily, but not exclusively, directed at women and the negative consequences for the victim.”

Sofia Strid.

Higher education employees who report that they have experienced gender-based violence express greater dissatisfaction with their jobs and their work environment than those who have not had such experiences.

Want to leave
Respondents who report that they have suffered gender-based violence also believe that their productivity has decreased as a result. The proportion reporting this was 54 per cent.

A third of respondents who have experienced gender-based violence in some form state that they have tried to leave their position in some way. This may involve attempts to leave the higher education sector completely or to leave their research group or department or change their supervisor. Of respondents who have not experienced gender-based violence, the corresponding figure is one in ten.

“This is not just a problem for the individuals, but a problem for the research and higher education sector as a whole,” says Strid. “We are losing, or risk losing, competent staff, and we also have people who are working less because they have suffered gender-based violence.”

Minorities more at risk
The study also shows that people who identify as LGBTQI, people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities experience gender-based violence to a greater extent than other groups, with figures of 68 per cent, 72 per cent and 69 per cent respectively.

Of those who have experienced gender-based violence, 13 per cent have made a formal report, the study shows.

Linus Hellerstedt

European survey

The Unisafe project studies gender-based violence at European universities and colleges.


The project is a collaboration between a number of EU countries. In Sweden, the research team consists of Sofia Strid and Fredrik Bondestam from Gothenburg University and Liisa Husu, Jeff Hearn, Nicole Ovesen and Angelica Simonsson from Örebro University.


The survey on which this article is based was coordinated by the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, GESIS, in Mannheim, Germany. The response rate was 10 per cent for employees and 2 per cent for students.

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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