There has been a lot of talk of harassment, and sexual harassment in particular, since the summer.
A number of universities and university colleges have had to go through their procedures on how such cases should be handled. Many of them have established procedures for how cases between staff members are to be handled, but, unfortunately, this has not been formalised to the same extent for students.
NHH has also reviewed its procedures for such cases this autumn. NHH aims to be a safe and inclusive educational institution, that not only maintains a high level of academic quality, but also takes the learning environment seriously and makes requirements of its staff and students with respect to their behaviour towards each other.
About the blogger:
Sigbjørn Råsberg is NHH’s student ombudsman. The aim of the student ombudsman is to secure students who are in a conflict with NHH the best possible administrative procedures, legal protection and guidance. The ombudsman can counsel regarding procedural steps, what documents to attach and how to promote your case or file your complaint. However, the student ombudsman does not promote the case for you.
It is important that students and staff at NHH take this issue seriously. Figures presented earlier this autumn from a survey conducted at three universities and two university colleges, showed that 1% of students said they had been subject to sexual harassment by staff members and 8% by fellow students. If these figures are representative, we have a serious attitude problem on our hands, which may have long-term consequences for those subject to harassment.
The Act relating to Universities and University Colleges Section 4-3 clearly states that ‘The board is responsible for ensuring that the learning environment at the institution, including the physical and mental working environment, is fully satisfactory on the basis of an overall assessment of considerations regarding the health, safety and welfare of the students.’
The wording of the provision may not be crystal clear, but in practice it means that the highest level of the organisation is responsible for ensuring that students have a good physical and mental learning environment.
WHAT IS HARASSMENT?
Harassment is not only sexual harassment. It also includes other forms of unwanted, troublesome attention that has negative consequences for the person subject to it. Typical examples are what we would often describe as bullying or inappropriate touching, but being humiliated, made to look at photos of an insulting nature etc. can also be classified as harassment.
WHEN CAN NHH ACT?
There is no clear blueprint for what NHH is obliged to address. The legislator states that the term ‘learning environment’ embraces ‘all factors that may influence the students’ study situation’. However, it is nonetheless specified that ‘the institutions are only responsible, however, for the elements of the learning environment that can reasonably be deemed to be within the educational institutions sphere of control’.
However, this does not mean that NHH is not obliged to implement measures to prevent or reduce harassment outside their own sphere of control. Section 8 of the Gender Equality Act states, among other things that ‘Harassment on the basis of gender and sexual harassment shall be prohibited’, and that the management of an educational institution must, to a great extent, ‘preclude and seek to prevent the occurrence of harassment’ cf. Section 15.
If a student has been subject to harassment by a fellow student or staff member at the institution, there is much to indicate that the educational institution is obliged to act, even if the harassment occurred during the student’s spare time and outside the school premises. This is because the possibility of meeting the person or persons who have harassed you will affect the psychosocial learning environment and thus indirectly the student’s day-to-day life.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES?
The rectorate of NHH has made it clear that harassing behaviour is not acceptable, whether it is between students or between a student and a member of staff. Ultimately, the Act relating to Universities and University Colleges Section 4-8 first paragraph allows for the possibility of excluding a student who ‘repeatedly behaves in a manner which seriously disturbs the work of fellow students or other activities at the institution’ for up to one year.
In a judgment pronounced by Asker and Bærum District Court in 2016, an 18-year-old boy was sentenced to a 90-day suspended sentence, a fine of NOK 5,000 and the confiscation of his mobile phone for violation of Section 266 of the General Civil Penal Code for having taken sexual photos of two other persons and spread them via Snapchat.
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU ARE SUBJECT TO HARASSMENT?
Confront the person who has paid you unwanted attention. Make it clear that it is not OK and that it must stop.
If you want to go further with the matter, or otherwise need support, contact someone you trust. This may be a male or female friend, a course coordinator, a student councillor, me in my capacity as the student ombudsman or someone else. We can help you and put you into contact with others as necessary.