Jokes, inappropriate requests, unwanted comments, harassment, abuse. From Piedmont to Calabria. The stories of the violence suffered by some students at the University of Turin are bringing to light a huge hidden situation. In less than 24 hours, the questionnaire that the University Union addressed to students received over 200 responses from around 60 different universities. “And they continue to arrive non-stop – explains the communications manager, Simone Agutoli –, placing us before a picture of widespread harassment and violence, especially on the part of classmates or university professors”.
Hugs, verbal approaches and violence
“Do you think the university where you study is a safe place?” is one of the questions asked in the online form. The answer, for many, is no. For those who pass through them, university spaces are not at all free of dangers, because it is too easy to become the object of verbal and physical harassment or violence. “A security employee always seemed too friendly towards me: he called me ‘dear’ or ‘little girl’, sometimes he hugged me. When I first put on a skirt he called me ‘pretty pussy’. I haven’t been calmer since then.” This and the other forty testimonies left in the questionnaire are accounts of situations that are all too ordinary. During an internship in the clinic, another student says, “the professor compliments me by saying: ‘it’s obvious that you’re good at holding the **** in your hand, how many did you take, you seem expert’. Then she invites me to have lunch with him. I refuse and he is keen to underline: ‘look, I’ll pay’.
More and more harassment from university staff
For some time now, university anti-violence centers and centers have been receiving more and more reports. Not only of violence between peers, but also in asymmetric power relations. “In the last month alone, five or six female students from the same department have come to us. They had all been harassed by a teacher who has taught there for years,” the student reports Rachele Abballe, who works at the Sara Anti-Violence Center in Pietrantonio in Roma Tre. “But what is very often missing – she reasons – is the awareness that it is really violence: many girls tell us about caresses, hugs or inappropriate phrases, but they tend to normalize it”.
Since it opened in October 2022, the University of Bologna’s anti-violence desk has received a total of 80 requests for support. In 20 cases it involved sexual, psychological violence or harassment attributed to fellow students or colleagues. Five requests, however, came after harassment from a teacher. “These situations emerge with more difficulty – he says Giulia Nanni, manager of the desk managed by Casa delle donne -, but some reports are also arriving from us. No physical violence, just unpleasant attitudes.” Even at the University of Venice, an anonymous investigation had revealed “a series of inappropriate attentions carried out by some teachers, such as jokes, hugs, physical contact”, reports the trusted advisor of the Universities of Verona, Brescia and the Polytechnic of the Marche, Francesca Torelli.
The boom in requests after the Cecchettin case
But more generally, the detonator that made the requests for support skyrocket was the femicide of Giulia Cecchettin. “On average, a new student comes to us every week. In the month of November, fifteen of us contacted us, mainly concentrated in the three days following the discovery of the student’s body”, says Nanni. Almost half of the violence reported is sexual, 42% is psychological and 14% is physical, 80% of which occurred outside the university.
Likewise, the affair “had the effect of helping to raise greater awareness among university leaders – reports Torelli -. Not so much with respect to sensational facts, but on the importance of learning to read weak signals and not underestimating ‘jokes’ or the search for apparently harmless physical contact”.
Universities’ responses to gender violence are still uneven: 50 state universities have a trusted advisor, 13 more than the last mapping carried out by “Repubblica” two years ago. The most penalized is Campania, but in general the whole of the Centre-South. Many of these universities don’t even have an anti-violence desk: “A fundamental device that manages to intercept girls at a very young age and often when the violence is still in its embryonic stage”, claims the manager of the Unibo desk.
The problem of anonymous reporting
But even where a trusted advisor is foreseen, one of the problems is that “anonymous reporting makes the initiation of disciplinary proceedings almost impracticable, unless other objective evidence is provided in addition to the subject’s testimony” explains Torelli. In 2022, he recalls, “a disciplinary proceeding with related sanction was initiated, but only because the victim already had plans to change university and did not fear retaliatory behavior from the harassing person”. Most of the testimonies, in fact, adds Abballe, “are anonymous because there is a fear of not being believed and of being hindered in one’s university career”.
“It is understandable and human – concludes the trusted advisor -, but my appeal is: we are no longer alone. And even if we feel strong and able to endure, or if we feel annihilated and weak, it is essential to immediately turn to reliable figures who can guide us on the path to emergence.”
This news article has been translated from the original language to English by WorldsNewsNow.com.
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