How to identify and prevent harassment?

1. Identifying harassment

The first step towards taking action against harassment is for harassment and bullying to be genuinely identified in organisations. Only after this is it possible to consider how they can be prevented in your own organisation and how to resolve potential cases of bullying.

Different norms and power structures operate behind harassment. The structures are ways of behaviour, speaking and thought that are often maintained unconsciously and are a part of culture. They determine what is considered as acceptable behaviour in different situations as well as who has the power to determine it. The consequences of the division of power include the more frequent and systematic disparagement of certain kinds of experiences (e.g. those of women and minorities). This leads to harassment not being taken seriously. The rules of behaviour change when these structures are questioned and made visible. The change often leads to conflict when privileges become visible and are questioned.

Harassment and bullying are always a group phenomenon and a problem for the entire community, affecting all its members. They do not concern only the bullied individual, but also the bully, bystanders and the entire student community and personnel. Bullying negatively affects students’ wellbeing, health, study progress and attachment to the study community. According to studies, bullying is connected to depression, fatigue, experience of loneliness and trust towards other people, for instance.

Special characteristics of harassment in organisational activities:

What kinds of harassment situations are identified in organisations?

  • Touching and commenting veiled in familiarity: ‘culture of intimacy’
  • Party cultures, different codes for different situations, intoxicants, groping at parties
  • The people who grope others are known, but no one knows how to take action against their behaviour
  • Slander and rumours that spread effectively in social media
  • Sexually charged stalking, harassment and pressuring
  • Insensitive ways of talking, sexual suggestions, racy jokes

What is special in organisational activities?

  • Peer culture, volunteering, part-time nature, leisure time (no official obligations)
  • Action can focus on individual events or campaigns (no fixed communities or groups)
  • Social media and digital communities
  • Partying
  • Aspects related to the nature of hobby activities (games, camps, politics)
  • Employees, people in positions of trust, volunteers and target groups all mixed up