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Economics PhD student's research shows how training can help to reduce sexual harassment

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Economics PhD student's research shows how training can help to reduce sexual harassment

Research by Warwick Economics PhD student Karmini Sharma has demonstrated the effectiveness of training interventions in reducing sexual harassment behaviour.

Using a randomised control trial, Dr Sharma collaborated with the NGO Safecity to deliver sexual harassment awareness training to nearly 900 male students from randomly selected classes in two colleges in Delhi.

The training provided information on the definition of sexual harassment and the types of behaviours considered as sexual harassment, the laws against it and ways to help a survivor of sexual harassment. It included an empathy-building approach to help men understand a woman's perspective of sexual harassment.

Dr Sharma used questionnaires to assess how men's attitudes and awareness of sexual harassment changed following the intervention compared to the attitudes of those who did not receive training. She also used questionnaires to assess women's awareness and experiences of sexual harassment.

The training given to men led to a significant fall in sexual harassment, particularly in extreme forms, as reported by women from within the same classes. This translated to 51 fewer women out of 1,200 experiencing extreme forms of sexual harassment over one academic year, as compared to the women in control classes. The actions prevented included groping, pinching and other acts undertaken without consent.

While Dr Sharma found that this decline was due to men demonstrating better behaviours towards women, she argues that the results are consistent with men undertaking these 'good' behaviours to avoid disapproval of their peers. The findings showed that the training led to an increase in men's perception of peer disapproval of sexual harassment, rather than an intrinsic change in their own attitudes.

Notably, following the training there was also a decline in romantic relationships between men and women by approximately 50%. Her theoretical model and a lab in the field experiment with same students suggests that this was consistent with women being more cautious about forming relationships.

Three months after the training, male awareness about ambiguous sexual harassment situations had increased by 12%, while awareness about the laws relating to sexual harassment and the mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment increased by 107%.

Commenting on the research, Dr Sharma said:

"To date there has been a lack of causal evidence on how to effectively deter sexual harassment behaviour. This study sheds new light on the impact of sexual harassment awareness training and directly informs policymakers and law makers around the world who have advocated for such interventions."

"Although the research was conducted in an education setting, it also has potentially important implications for workplace relationships and experiences of sexual harassment."

Read the full paper: Tackling sexual harassment: Experimental Evidence from IndiaLink opens in a new window by Karmini Sharma (May 2022)

An earlier version of the paper won the best student paper awardLink opens in a new window at the Australian Gender Economics Workshop 2021 and at the Women in the Economy: 3rd Annual Workshop (2021).

Our Values

Warwick Economics aims to foster an inclusive environment for staff and students where sexual harassment, prejudices and socially unacceptable behaviours of any kind are never tolerated and differences in culture and identity are celebrated and respected.

Lisa Hayes, HR Officer for the Department, said:

"We are committed to embedding our key principles of respect, integrity and accountability into our work and study environment. As part of our work in this area we are providing training for all our staff on recognising, challenging and reporting inappropriate behaviours."

She also added: "The Department has recently rolled out 'Where do you draw the line?' training to academic staff, led by an external consultant. The aim was to consider types of behaviours that may be evident within the Higher Education sector and what is and isn't an acceptable way to behave both at work and at external events. The training facilitated constructive discussions around unacceptable behaviours and how individuals can intervene if they are subject to, or witness, inappropriate behaviour."

"It is great to see Karmini Sharma's research considering issues that may be affecting the global workforce and providing evidence of the effectiveness of training interventions in reducing inappropriate behaviours and increasing awareness of reporting mechanisms. Her research resonates with the work being undertaken in the Department to implement training, drive awareness and foster conversations around these important topics."

At an institutional level, the University's Report+Support scheme provides a platform to report inappropriate behaviours within the workplace and is available to both staff and students. Inappropriate behaviours can be reported anonymously or through a Report and Support representative. Should you wish to make a disclosure, you will receive full support from a trained advisor.

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