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Indian and American Students for Safety on Campus

Karen Singleton speaks at an interaction with students and members of the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi

A few months ago, a 20-year-old student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi found herself the object of unwanted attention from her professor. It started with compliments about her looks and work that became increasingly exaggerated; and then one day he put his arms around her, initiating a long period of traumatizing sexual harassment that included frequent lewd remarks and sexual overtures. When she protested, he threatened to give her poor grades. Based on interviews with university students, this is a typical pattern, which continues for some time, making life miserable for women students. In recent cases, however, it has ended when the students threaten to approach the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment at JNU, a potent deterrent for potential harassers

Text by MANISH CHAND Photographs by AJIT KUMAR

Thousands of kilometers away, at Columbia University in New York, a student was harassed by an older classmate for months until she decided to speak out and approach the university authorities. The story is the same; only the cast and cultural contexts are different. Whether in India or the United States, sexual harassment has become a “silent epidemic,” with more and more cases of molestation and sexual assault being reported from college campuses in both countries. The victims are mostly women students (although male students are also victims) and the perpetrators are faculty, students and university support staff. 

The statistics are alarming. In the United States, one out of every three to five students report being sexually assaulted by the time they graduate, says Suraiya Baluch, director of Princeton University’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Advising, Resources and Education office. Baluch, along with Karen Singleton, director of the Columbia University Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Program, visited India recently to interact with students, faculty and NGOs working in this area.  

March 2010

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