Experiences of Sexual Harassment and Abuse among Norwegian Elite Female Athletes and Nonathletes. (Sociology and Cultural Anthropology)
Fasting, Kari, Brackenridge, Celia, Sundgot-Borgen, Jorunn, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
This paper compares the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse among 660 Norwegian elite female athletes and an age-matched control sample of nonathletes. It also explores differences in the prevalence of harassment and abuse in sport and work or school settings and compares harassment and abuse perpetrated by male authority figures and peers in these different contexts. No differences were found between the athletes and controls in overall prevalence of sexual harassment or abuse. However, the athletes experienced significantly more harassment from male authority figures than did the controls. Based on these results, the article considers whether or not sport offers women any particular immunity from sexual harassment and abuse. The implications of the, findings for structural and cultural change in sport are discussed.
Key words: culture, discrimination, equity, power
Only in the past 20-30 years has research been conducted on the various ways people experience sexual harassment and abuse, its effects on their lives, and its costs to society (Stockdale, 1996). Internationally, most of this research has taken place in the workplace and educational system: little is known about the causes or characteristics of sexual harassment and abuse in sport. The findings about sexual harassment in the workplace and educational settings indicate that sport organizations may also represent a culture in which sexual harassment can easily occur. While women who work or study in a largely female environment are less likely to be sexually harassed or abused (Grauerholz, 1996), most sport organizations are heavily dominated by men, masculinity, and traditional male values. This raises the question of whether sport is, therefore, a particularly risky location for sexual harassment or abuse.
Research on sexual harassment and abuse in sports is scarce, but it has grown steadily since the mid 1980s (Brackenridge, 1997, 2001; Crosset, 1986; Fasting, Brackenridge, & Sundgot-Borgen, 2000; Lackey 1990; Leahy, Pretty, & Tenenbaum, 2002; Lenskyj, 1992; Toftegaard, 1998, 2001; Volkwein, Schnell, Sherwood, & Livezey, 1997; Yorganci, 1993). These studies of sexual harassment and abuse in sport include both qualitative investigations and quantitative surveys. Qualitative studies have been used to gather descriptions of harassment and abuse experiences, and from these risk factors have been described. In addition, theoretical models and propositions grounded in athletes' experiences have been generated (Brackenridge, 1997; Cense & Brackenridge, 2001). The quantitative investigations have often been based on small samples and surveys with a low response rate. Few large-scale quantitative studies have been carried out that explore the incidence or prevalence of these experiences, and little is known about the d ifferences between the incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse inside and outside sport. Without such data it is impossible to verify arguments about the relative immunity of sport from sexual harassment and abuse (i.e., that sport is a moral sphere) or arguments about the value of engaging in sport as a protection against sexual harassment and abuse more generally (i.e., that sport is a medium increasing self-esteem and resistance). The aim of this paper is to explore similarities and differences in the prevalence and experiences of sexual harassment and abuse among elite female athletes and nonathletes. The objectives are:
1. To compare the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse among elite female athletes and an age-matched control group of nonathletes;
2. To compare the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse among elite female athletes inside and outside their sport settings with that among an age-matched control group of nonathletes inside and outside their work or educational settings;
3. To compare the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated by authority figures and peers in sport with that perpetrated by authority figures and peers in work or education settings.
What Is Sexual Harassment and Abuse?
Definitions of sexual harassment and abuse vary widely, depending on the purpose of each study and how the data are used. Sexual harassment at work was first brought to public attention in the mid 1970s by feminists in the U.S. (MacKinnon, 1979). In many western countries (e.g., the U.S., Canada, or Norway), sexual harassment is often an illegal practice under labor and equal rights laws. Sport organizations may or may not be covered by such laws. There is no universally accepted definition of sexual harassment. Common to all definitions, however, is that harassment is unwanted sexual attention. This implies that it is subjective and experienced as unwanted will vary from person to person. The personal and psychological impact of the same behavior may, therefore, also be vastly different depending on the individual's background and perceptions.
One example of a definition from sport is from the Netherlands Olympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (1997). In their code of conduct, sexual harassment is defined as follows: "...any form of sexual behavior or suggestion, in verbal, non-verbal or physical form, whether intentional or not, which is regarded by the person experiencing it as undesired or forced" (p. 3). Another example is the definition developed by The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport (1994, p. 8):
Sexual harassment can be defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
--Submitting to or rejecting this conduct is used as the basis for making decisions which affect the individual; or
--Such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's performance; or
--Such conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
Some authors distinguish between sexual harassment and abuse, while others include abuse under the concept of sexual harassment. The two definitions above are such examples. Brackenridge (1997) attempted to resolve this difficult definitional problem by suggesting a continuum from sex discrimination to sexual harassment to sexual abuse. She defined sexual harassment as "unwanted attention on the basis of sex" (lewd comments, pinching, touching or caressing, sexual jokes, etc.) and sexual abuse as "groomed or coerced collaboration in sexual and/or genital acts where the victim has been entrapped by the perpetrator" (pp. 116-117).
Even within sport research, variation in interpretation of the concepts of sexual harassment and abuse is evident across different studies (e.g., Cense, 1997; Crosset, 1986; Hassall, 2000; Malkin, Johnston, & Brackenridge, 2000; Toftegaard, 1998; Volkwein et al., 1997) and different countries as shown above (e.g.,. Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark). For the purposes of the project presented in this paper, the definitions adopted are those as set out in Brackenridge (1997; see Figure 1).
Sexual Harassment and Abuse Outside Sport
Sexual harassment and abuse studies may be considered under two broad headings: (a) those concerning children (more often focused on sexual abuse), and (b) those concerning adult women (more often concerned with sexual harassment and rape). Data from both groups of studies vary widely depending on the definitions, sampling techniques, response rates, etc. A large 1994 study of 5,000 Norwegian women and men between the ages of 18 and 60 years showed that 31% of the women and 16% of the men experienced sexual abuse when they were under the age of 18 years (Tambs, 1994).
Using 3 years of monitoring data on child abuse in England and Wales, Creighton (1992) reported that 15% of child sexual abuse perpetrators were nonfamily members. From an analysis of eight prevalence studies, Fergusson and Mullen (1999) found that, overall, 47.8% of child sexual abuse was perpetrated by known, nonfamily members. This group, of course, might include sports coaches and leaders.
According to Timmerman and Bajema (1999), the first comprehensive national survey on sexual harassment was conducted in the U.S. in 1981. In that study, 42% of all female and 15% of all male governmental employees reported experiences with unwanted sexual attention in the workplace during the previous 2 years (United States Merit Systems Protection Board, 1981). In the same year, similar surveys were conducted in Britain. These showed that 52% of the women and 20% of the men had experienced sexual harassment (Thomas & Kitzinger, 1997). A 1992 national study in Norway found that 120,000 female workers ages 18-50 years had experienced some kind of sexual harassment, which accounted for 20% of the total age group (Dagbladet fakta, 1996). In a much smaller study (n = 71) done by the largest women's magazine in Norway, as many as 90% had experienced sexual harassment (Brantsaeter and Widerberg, 1992). The sample was, however, self-selected and, therefore, not representative of the magazine's readers.
With reference to sexual abuse of women, Russell's (1984) famous rape survey in San Francisco revealed incidence rates seven times higher than those in the official National Grime Survey. From her sample of 930 women (over 18 years of age), 41% reported at least one experience that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. So-called date rape became a dominant research theme in North American research on sexual violence during the 1990s (Benedict & Klein 1997; Sanday 1996). Koss, Gidycz, and Wisniewski (1987) discussed how the congruence of coercive beliefs, aggressive behavior, and cultural understandings of sexuality all conspire to maintain rape-supportive environments. Koss was employed by the National Institute of Mental Health to examine this phenomenon. From a sample of 6,100 …
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Publication information: Article title: Experiences of Sexual Harassment and Abuse among Norwegian Elite Female Athletes and Nonathletes. (Sociology and Cultural Anthropology). Contributors: Fasting, Kari - Author, Brackenridge, Celia - Author, Sundgot-Borgen, Jorunn - Author. Journal title: Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Volume: 74. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 2003. Page number: 84+. © 1999 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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