The problem with anonymously reporting sexual abuse — where neither the accused nor the accuser is named — is that it does not hold the perpetrators accountable. This allows sexual harassment to be recurrent and yet remain unacknowledged institutionally. As the #MeToo movement has taken on a life of its own, women in various workplaces, including in academia, have found themselves able to publicly share stories of sexual harassment. A student advice website founded by former professor Karen Kelsky, The Professor Is In, created a crowdsourced survey that brought several sexual harassment cases within the University of Toronto to light.
The aim of this survey, however, appears not to have been revealing the identity of the harassers but revealing the problem and scale of violence in universities in general. While this is a noble idea that allows us to document the extent of sexual violence that survivors endure in academia without shaming and humiliating them, the anonymity of the survey also lets the harassers go virtually unexposed and unpunished.
Academia remains a field in which the lines of informality and formality between students and professors are often difficult to ascertain. While we can hold our heads high and know that there are more women coming into academia and challenging the patriarchal hierarchy, the results of the survey show that 15 of the 16 U of T accusations were made against male professors by female graduate students.
Inclusion of women in academia, workplaces, and political positions is important and necessary, but it is certainly not enough. To tackle the hierarchy and to bring about true equality, the institutions and the cultural and behavioural attitudes of their members will have to change.
While the survey was an important step in identifying and acknowledging the fact that sexual harassment does, in fact, occur on this campus, it is merely a first step toward solving the problem itself, and it should be accompanied by institutional policies targeted toward accountability and discipline.
Shazre Khan is a fourth-year student at Woodsworth College studying Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law.