Experiences of Sexual Harassment and Abuse among Norwegian Elite Female Athletes and Nonathletes. (Sociology and Cultural Anthropology)

Article excerpt

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

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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. …