Knesset Committee Approves Regulations to Deal With Sexual Harassment in Academia

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The Technion campus in Haifa.
The Technion campus in Haifa. Credit: Dror Artzi / Jini

The Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Wednesday approved regulations to deal with sexual harassment in higher education institutions. The regulations were drafted by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and her office with help from the National Union of Israeli Students, and relate to cases that take place on campus.

This is the first time that such regulations have been issued and they will be binding to all academic institutions. The regulations have been approved by the Council for Higher Education and the Economy Ministry. Under the regulations, complainants who so desire will have an official of the academic institution accompany them in their dealings regarding the complaint.

Institutions will be required to report annually to the Authority for the Advancement of Women’s Status in the Prime Minister’s Office and to the Women’s Status committee on the number of complaints filed for sexual harassment. They will also be required to make it clear that such incidents would not be tolerated on campus and to raise awareness of the issue.

Every institution will appoint two members from the faculty, the administrative staff or the student body, who will undergo professional training to handle sexual harassment cases.

In May 2013 the state comptroller blasted the absence of regulations for dealing with sexual harassment in the Council for Higher Education and universities. The comptroller said the institutions’ handling of sexual harassment incidents was harmful to the complainants.

A survey recently conducted by the students union showed that 17.9 percent of the respondents said they were sexually harassed during their studies. Only 5 percent of those who admitted they had been harassed filed a complaint to the institution’s official in charge of sexual harassment. The survey also found that 83 percent of those interviewed were not aware of such an official’s existence.

“The new regulations will address the serious problem of sexual harassment and provide students not only with legal protection from these acts, but also require the institutions to deal with them more actively,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday.

“In recent years we have fought to stop sexual harassment in academia,” said Student Union chairman Uri Reshtik. “This is a significant achievement, but it’s an ongoing struggle that isn’t over. We won’t stop fighting for what we see as basic rights to ensure a safe, egalitarian environment in campuses.”

The campaign for introducing the regulations was impeded by objections from the Council for Higher Education. At first the council rejected the state comptroller’s conclusions and distributed a paper saying it was not its job to collect reports and examine the various institutions’ codex. The council also dismissed the demand made by the Knesset education and women’s status committees that it submit procedures to deal with sexual harassment on campus within three months.

Following the Student Union’s protest and public criticism, the council drafted new, stricter directives than it had initially. The Women’s Status Committee approved these directives Wednesday.

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