Performance Level and Sexual Harassment Prevalence among Female Athletes in the Czech Republic

Article excerpt


This article investigates whether there is a relationship between the sport performance level of female athletes inside the sport (at clubs, competitions, or training events) and outside sport (in family or community settings) and the likelihood that they will be victims of sexual harassment. The study sample consisted of 595 women from the Czech Republic and was divided into three performance groups: elite, non-elite/competing, and exercisers. No significant differences were found between the groups in relation to overall cases of sexual harassment, but when their experiences of sexual harassment inside and outside sport were examined, the picture changed. The chances of being harassed by someone in sport increased with performance level, from 29.7% among the exercisers to 55.2% among the elite-level athletes. However, the highest proportion of women experiencing sexual harassment was seen in the group of the exercises outside of sport (73%). This article discusses the prevalence of sexual harassment in relation to the gender order in Czech society.


The results presented in this article are from a larger research project on issues related to women in sport in the Czech Republic. The project was initiated by the Women and Sport Committee of the Czech Olympic Committee in cooperation with the Czech Sport Union. The goal of the research was to assess the present role and situation of women in sport organizations in the Czech Republic. One of the main research questions was that of female athletes' experiences of sexual harassment.

Previous research on sexual harassment among athletes has generally been guided by assumptions about the pattern of gender relations in sport (Fasting & Brackenridge, 2007). In particular, sport has often been conceptualized as a male-dominated culture, which facilitates various forms of discrimination against female athletes, including sexual harassment from coaches and male athletes (Messner, 2002; Messner & Sabo, 1994; Volkwein, Schnell, Sherwood, & Livezey, 1997). A Norwegian study indicated that female elite athletes suffer higher levels of sexual harassment while inside sport (from authority figures) than their non-sport peers experience outside sport (from teachers or supervisors) (Fasting, Brackenridge, & Sundgot-Borgen, 2003).

Conversely, researchers have argued that athletic participation can protect female athletes from sexual victimization through a variety of social-psychological mechanisms (Choi, 2000; Haywood & Dworkin, 2003; Miller, Sabo, Melnick, Farrell, & Barnes, 2000). These accounts suggest that sport is a source of empowerment in many girls' lives, helping them to develop a positive body image and identity and to make confident choices about relationships and sexuality. To this extent, and within the context of research and theory on sexual harassment prevention, sport might be said to protect females from some forms of sexual victimization (Fasting et al., 2003). Fasting et al. also suggested that sport offers some protection to female athletes because it develops their strength, self-confidence, and sense of physical adeptness, characteristics that have previously been associated with rape resistance and avoidance (Bart, 1981). However, limited support for this hypothesis was found in a large dataset from college-aged students in the USA (Fasting, Brackenridge, Miller, & Sabo, 2008).

In relation to sport performance level, most of the research on the prevalence of sexual harassment in sport has been conducted on elite or former elite-level female athletes (Brackenridge, 2001). The study of Norwegian elite-level female athletes by Fasting, Brackenridge, and Sundgot-Borgen (2000) found a higher prevalence of sexual harassment among the very best athletes (those who had participate in participated in a World Championship and/or the Olympic Games) compared with elite-level female athletes in the sample who had not participated in such international championships. …