On behalf of California Employment Counsel, APC on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Recently, California lawmakers have been debating over a judge’s ruling that cases involving students accused of sexual assault should include a live cross-examination from both parties. Some believe that this is the right choice as it would provide a fair trial. Others think that this could be traumatizing to the victim and give them another reason not to report the crime to campus safety.

Despite the #MeToo movement encouraging many young adults to speak up about their experiences, college students can have an especially difficult time discussing any incidents they had with teachers or other students with authorities. It is important for teachers, parents and students to know why it is hard to report sexual harassment on college campuses so that we can make the process easier for them and create a safer educational environment.

Suffering from seniority

Universities aren’t like your typical everyday workplace. Most students are paying thousands of dollars to attend universities just to get a decent career in the near future. Since they are not getting paid and they are decades younger than a teacher who would harass them, many are inclined to believe that the teacher can use their higher authoritative status to get away with their atrocities.

For example, a tenured male professor at UC Berkeley was recently suspended for two years after a female student accused him of sexually harassing her. While the college stated that the professor was suspended with one unpaid and one partially paid year, the student was outraged as she later discovered that the college included a paid sabbatical for the second year.

She found it discouraging given how many years he has gotten away with this inappropriate behavior. The case investigator also claims that it was hard for students to speak up about his actions because of his influential position.

Social anxiety

College students are at an emotionally vulnerable point in their lives. They worry about their grades, payments, career choices and what connections they want to create to shape their futures. Having to deal with sexual harassment from a fellow student or teacher drastically increases that mental strain even further. Some may feel they need to prioritize other parts of their lives and just see this cruel behavior as a minor inconvenience to deal with.

What makes it especially hard for students to report on these issues is that they live on campus with hundreds of people their age every day. If word gets out that they got a beloved professor or athlete fired, other classmates could start targeting them. While schools do try to keep sexual harassment cases under wraps, word can spread fast in the age of social media.

California students need to know that it’s all right to report someone who sexually harassed them. Not stopping the culprit now means they could continue to misbehave towards the student or to other classmates and faculty. If you know someone struggling to speak up on campus, have them talk to someone with experience in dealing with sexual harassment cases.