Sexual Harassment and Title IX
Sexual Misconduct and Gender-based Incidents
Sexual and gender-based misconduct can be an issue during off-campus studies (OCS) just as it can be on campus. Our student’s safety and wellbeing while abroad is a top priority for us. Below are some important pieces of information regarding resources and policies in this area. We recommend students familiarize themselves with this information before studying off campus.
- Whitman students are protected by and held accountable to Whitman’s policies on sexual and gender-based misconduct while studying off campus. This is true even if a student is attending a program run by another organization (such as IES, SIT, CIEE) or a foreign university.
- Whitman students studying on programs not administered by Whitman are also protected and held accountable to the program’s policies on sexual and gender-based misconduct. In other words, students are responsible for understanding and complying with both Whitman’s policies, as well as their OCS program’s policies.
If you are involved with a sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or gender-based incident, our first concern is to provide immediate support to ensure your safety and wellbeing.
Steps to take if you think you may have been involved in a sexual harassment, sexual assault or gender-based incident:
- First: remember that a sexual assault or gender-based incident is NEVER the victim’s fault.
- Report the incident to your local program staff to access local support resources such as confidential victim services, access to medical assistance, help with reporting to police (only if you choose to do so), potential housing changes, academic accommodations, etc.)
- Know that Whitman on-campus support services are available to you from a distance regardless of where you are studying and regardless of who else (fellow student, stranger, etc.) is involved in the incident. We recommend that you report the incident to either Thomas Witherspoon (firstname.lastname@example.org) Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator, or Jessica Matthews (email@example.com), Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate.
- If you are a responding student and an incident report is brought against you, you will be held to the standards and adjudication of your program and those of Whitman College.
Things you should know when considering reporting:
- If you are concerned about confidentiality, ask your program staff if there is anyone you can speak with who can maintain confidentiality. Some program staff may be legally obligated to report incidents to Whitman College or others. If you would like to consult with someone who can maintain confidentiality, you may contact Jessica Matthews (sava.ywcaww.org), Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate employed by the YWCA, who is not obligated to report incidents and can maintain confidentiality.
- Your off-campus program may or may not have a designated Title IX officer to report to. If they do not, you are encouraged to report the incident to the Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate Jessica Matthews (firstname.lastname@example.org), promptly. Even if your program has its own Title IX officer, we encourage you to report the incident to Whitman as well.
(Please note that the Title IX administrator is required by law to act upon any incidents they learn about.)
- Attitudes and law related to sexual misconduct and/or assault, as well as local resources, will vary from country-to-country. For this reason, if you believe you have been involved in an incident, we highly recommend that you consult with someone in Whitman’s Off-Campus Studies or Thomas Witherspoon (email@example.com) or Jessica Matthews (firstname.lastname@example.org) for guidance about how to proceed. Depending on local conditions, it may or may not be beneficial to report a sexual assault to local police. Seek guidance from your local program staff and Whitman Off-Campus Studies about this.
A complete copy of the Whitman sexual harassment policy is available in the College’s Sexual Misconduct and Grievance policies at:
Details about how to handle an allegation of sexual harassment or assault can be found at:
Crime and Sexual Harassment
Students who study abroad may assume that they will be less likely to be a victim of crime overseas because many countries have a lower rate of violent crimes that the United States. However, as visitors from the U.S., Whitman students are likely to stand out because of their clothes, the way they walk, their speech, and other factors. Unfortunately, that makes them more likely to be targeted by petty criminals or others with bad intentions.
Disclaimer: Please note that these tips are not intended to place blame on victims but to heighten students’ awareness of the different cultural contexts they may find abroad.
Here are a few tips to help students have a safe experience abroad:
- Students should try to wear clothing that doesn't make them conspicuous, and walk with a confident air. Remember that in many countries visitors from the U.S., from East Asia, and from other western countries are perceived to be quite wealthy and pickpockets won't distinguish between a "poor" college student and a "wealthy" tourist.
- Students should never put a purse or luggage in a place where a passerby could walk off with it, and should keep their hands on their bags.
- Students may consider using a money belt to keep valuables such as money and their passport hidden from view. Be aware that pickpockets often ride buses and subways looking for wallets within easy access.
- When first arriving in country, students should find out from program staff if there are any parts of town that should be avoided and the safest forms of local transportation.
- Avoid walking alone or taking taxis alone, especially at night.
- While it is safer to travel with others, be aware that people sometimes let down their guard or do not notice their surroundings as much when they are with friends.
- Incidents have been reported in which strangers at bars or on trains have offered visitors food or drink that was later determined to be laced with drugs. Student should never accept drinks or food from individuals who they do not know.
- Students should consider using locks on their luggage and backpacks.
Sexual harassment of U.S. study abroad students by local men especially is a significant problem in some countries, especially in Asia, Latin America and some parts of Europe. While the problem tends to be more acute for women, men can be victims of it as well. The problem is in part due to the fact that Americans are perceived to be promiscuous in certain countries, especially in countries that are relatively conservative. This idea that Americans have lax sexual mores is unfortunately reinforced by images in American movies, TV and advertising. American students themselves can unwittingly reinforce these preconceived ideas, since their actions and/or style of dress often do not conform to local social norms.
It is therefore in the best interest of students to learn about the local social norms for young women and men as quickly as possible, and try to conform to them. Students should find out what clothing is appropriate for college-aged women and men, and dress accordingly. Find out if it is culturally acceptable to walk alone or if young women need to be accompanied by a male escort when they are walking around town. While it may not be easy for Whitman students to change their behavior, and they may find some of the local norms restrictive, we suggest that students consider learning about these issues, and modifying their behavior, as part of a cultural experience.
In some countries, men will respond to young women (especially women who look foreign) with hissing, whistling, leering stares, and blatant sexual advances. While some female students become angry and frustrated with this, it is important to remember that an American visitor is not going to be able to change the local culture. But there are ways that students can modify their behavior to conform to local culture, which should reduce the problem.
Tips that should help reduce harassment are as follows:
- In many societies (Italy, France, Latin America, and some parts of Asia) making any kind of eye contact at all or smiling at local men will be construed as a sexual advance.
- Be aware of how clothing may send cultural signals. In some societies, wearing sleeveless clothing, low necklines, short skirts, shorts, or tank tops will be associated with promiscuous behavior. Students even may need to dress more conservatively than their local peers, in order to counteract local stereotypes about US tourists.
- In some countries and regions (such as Italy, Greece, the Middle East and Latin America) it may not be appropriate for young women to walk alone on the street unaccompanied even during the day. Women may discover that they need to be accompanied by a friend when walking around town in order to avoid being harassed.
- Watch what local women do to protect them selves and follow suit. In many societies, students might observe women walking arm and arm, or huddled together in conversation. This is a tactic for avoiding the unwanted intrusions of men on the street.
- Find out from program staff the safest way to respond to unwanted advances in the host culture and what to say, if anything, in the local language. In some places it is best to ignore comments from men, in others there is a particular phrase in the local language that can be used to put a stop to the harassment.
- In some traditional societies, young people do not travel alone without their family members or friends. In these countries, a young person who travels alone, or stays alone at a guesthouse may be harassed for sexual favors because, by that culture’s norms, that individual is sending a message to locals that they have low moral standards.
- It is important to remember that student safety comes first. If students feel uncomfortable with a situation, they should not worry about being polite or offending someone. Students should follow their intuition, and get out of potentially unsafe situations as soon as possible.
- Students who encounter any form of harassment should inform their program staff and the Off-Campus Studies Office promptly.