Rules of procedure on the response to gender-related and sexual harassment and other sexual violence at the University of Iceland
- approved at a meeting of the University Council 16 January 2014
Gender-related and sexual harassment (hereafter referred to as offences) are strictly forbidden at the University of Iceland (UI), and are tolerated neither in relations between staff and students, internal relations between staff members nor relations between students. The objective of these rules is to ensure that strategies are in place should a staff member or a student consider themselves to have been the target of such an offence.
The term gender-related harassment refers to any kind of unreasonable and/or offensive behaviour related to the gender of the person subjected to it, is against the target's will, affects his or her self-esteem and continues despite clear indication that such behaviour is unwelcome. Harassment may be physical, verbal or symbolic. A single instance may be deemed gender-related harassment if it is serious.
The term sexual harassment refers to any kind of unreasonable and/or offensive sexual behaviour which is against the target's will, affects his or her self-esteem and continues despite clear indication that such behaviour is unwelcome. Harassment may be physical, verbal or symbolic. A single instance may be deemed sexual harassment if it is serious.
The term sexual violence refers to an offence against an individual's sexual freedom which is declared punishable in Chapter XXII of the General Penal Code.
The University Council appoints a Professional Council which has the role of processing matters relating to the aforementioned offences. The Professional Council shall be appointed for a three-year term. The appointed chair shall be an individual who has professional knowledge and experience in handling matters of this kind, but is not a permanent staff member at UI. In addition to the chair, one representative nominated by the UI Division of Human Resources and one representative nominated by the UI Student Counselling and Career Centre shall be appointed.
Care must be taken to ensure that nominations comply with the provisions of Article 15 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men no. 10/2008.
The role of the Professional Council is to receive and investigate complaints regarding offences at UI, provide supervisors of the victim's and perpetrator's academic or work units with a statement on these complaints, and propose reforms as applicable. The Professional Council shall furthermore advise UI governance on preventative measures that might be taken against such offences. The Professional Council shall comply with the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act no. 37/1993, for example concerning the right to be heard, rule of investigation, equal treatment of parties and prompt handling, as applicable. The Professional Council shall establish its own rules of procedure and work practices.
A staff member from the Division of Human Resources and the UI equal opportunities officer shall work with the Professional Council.
Anyone (hereafter referred to as the victim) wishing to submit a complaint regarding an offence committed against them by a staff member or student at UI (hereafter referred to as the perpetrator) shall contact one of the three representatives on the Professional Council or the UI equal opportunities officer.
A UI staff member may contact his or her immediate superior. If this individual is the one deemed to have committed the offence, the staff member may turn to the superior's superior. A student may contact the relevant faculty head or, depending on circumstances, the relevant school dean.
Anyone receiving such a complaint shall immediately refer the matter to the Professional Council for administrative action.
Action if a case is opened
When the Professional Council decides to open a case, the supervisors of the victim's and perpetrator's academic or work units shall immediately be informed. They shall, having consulted with the Professional Council, take any necessary measures concerning the academic or work arrangements of the victim and the perpetrator. Efforts shall be made to reach an accommodation regarding work arrangements whilst the matter is under investigation. The victim may not be transferred to another position because of gender-related or sexual harassment without having requested or agreed to this.
Processing of cases and statement of the Professional Council
The Professional Council shall thoroughly investigate the matter, among other things by speaking with the parties involved and, as appropriate, their co-workers. The Professional Council shall offer the victim professional assistance from a psychologist, social worker or other therapist with specialist knowledge of the offences involved. Should the victim wish to report the matter to the police, the Professional Council shall assist in this as far as possible.
After the investigation is concluded, the Professional Council shall issue a statement outlining its conclusions to the parties involved, as well as to the supervisors of the victim's and perpetrator's academic or work units. Should the Professional Council deem that an offence has been committed, it shall submit a proposal to the supervisor of the relevant academic or work unit concerning the appropriate response. The supervisor shall then determine the most appropriate course of action, in collaboration with the Division of Human Resources or the Student Counselling and Career Centre, as appropriate. The final decision in such cases shall be taken by the relevant supervisor or supervisors.
Unless the law dictates otherwise, the Professional Council and others involved are required to treat individual cases as confidential.
The Professional Council shall record and maintain statistical data on cases it receives. This data shall be published annually.
Entry into force
These rules, established on the basis of Article 2 of the Regulation for the University of Iceland no. 569/2009, shall enter into force upon being approved by the University Council.
The University of Iceland equal rights programme from 2009-2013 states that wellbeing in the workplace is an important component of the University's quality criteria. This programme clearly outlines the University's intention to ensure that mutual respect prevails between University staff and students. Amongst other things, this means that neither sexual nor gender-related harassment, nor other sexual violence, will be tolerated at UI. The University of Iceland aspires to always be at the forefront in matters of equality, and it is a matter of honour for the University to focus on these issues. It is important that strategies are in place should a staff member or a student consider themselves to have been a victim of one of the aforementioned offences. To ensure that this is the case, the University Council Equality Committee proposes that the following rules of procedure be approved.
The rules of procedure apply to responses at UI to any kind of gender-related or sexual harassment, or other sexual violence, to which staff or students may be subjected in their work or studies from other staff or students.
Specific sexual offences are punishable in accordance with the provisions of the General Penal Code no. 19/1940; in general, these are the most serious offences. If such cases arise at UI it is absolutely imperative that they proceed through clear channels and that the University takes the necessary measures, in parallel with responses from the criminal justice system as appropriate. Article 22 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men no. 10/2008 also emphasises institutions' responsibility to take specific measures to prevent staff and students being subjected to gender-related or sexual harassment within the institution. The Act defines harassment of this kind rather more broadly than does criminal law, and in some cases a complaint may be filed in parallel with the involvement of the criminal justice system, but in other cases not. It is no less important to create clear channels for cases of this kind within UI.
Further details on offences
Chapter XXII of the General Penal Code no. 19/1940 includes various provisions for sexual offences. The common objective of these provisions is to protect sexual freedom, the right to self-determination, freedom and privacy of the individual in sexual matters. The most serious offence is rape, when sexual intercourse or other sexual contact is had with an individual through the use of violence, threats or other unlawful coercion as well as depriving an individual of free will, for example, through confinement or drugs or exploiting, for instance, an individual's mental illness or mental disability. Punishable sexual harassment is behaviour of a sexual nature which is not considered to be sexual intercourse or other sexual contact. It includes, for example, stroking, fingering or fondling another person's genitals or breasts, beneath or through clothing. It also includes symbolic behaviour or words that are highly upsetting, repeated or liable to induce fear.
As previously mentioned, the terms gender-related harassment and sexual harassment are also defined in Article 2 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men no. 10/2008. These broader definitions form the basis of these rules of procedure, and it is important here to provide further information on behaviour of this kind.
Sexual harassment can take many forms. For example, inappropriate questions on sexual matters, unwelcome physical contact, repeated sexual advances which are met with disinterest or rejection. Gender-related and sexual harassment are often characterised by repeated abuse of power, psychological oppression, behaviour intended to belittle the victim, as well as negative effects on the mental and physical health of the victim.
Gender-related and sexual harassment crosses the line of that which the victim finds acceptable. Sometimes the harassment is not checked at the outset because initially it can be difficult to differentiate between compliments or friendly physical contact, and harassment. It is also important to realise that the distinction between gender-related or sexual harassment and flirtation or friendliness is that the behaviour is unwelcome, not mutual and never on the basis of equality.
Research indicates that there are many reasons that can lie behind bullying or harassment, and often there are many factors at play. A brochure issued in 2008 by the Directorate of Labour on bullying and sexual harassment in workplaces states that the following risk factors can encourage this behaviour:
- Bad management and unsuitable work arrangements. For example, excessive demands are made on employees, or the demands are unclear and/or conflicting.
- Poor handling of changes. For example, when new technology is introduced, work routines and roles are changed; a merger or change in ownership occurs, or departments are closed.
- Excessive workloads, expansion, time constraints and stress.
- Recession and layoffs.
- Unsatisfactory provision of information.
- Difference of opinions, bad relations and/or tension between employees and/or between employees and managers.
- Lack of tolerance, e.g., with regard to age, nationality, disability, sexuality, sexual orientation or other factors distinguishing an employee from others in the work group.
- Lack of firm responses and solutions to problems and disputes arising in the workplace.
- Lack of autonomy and chances to affect the job and the work environment.
- Unclear rules of communication and ethical criteria in the workplace.
- Problems with individuals.
Regarding individual provisions
The rules of procedure contain definitions of gender-related and sexual harassment and other sexual violence, with reference to the General Penal Code no. 19/1940 and provisions in the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men no. 10/2008.
It is also assumed that the University Council will appoint a specific Professional Council to address these matters, investigate them and propose responses. The goal in appointing the Professional Council is to ensure that any individual wishing to make a complaint regarding these specific offences shall have a secure channel available within UI. For this to be realised, it is important to emphasise the Professional Council's expert knowledge of offences of this kind. The involvement of an external specialist in a council of this kind is deemed to be one of the key factors in producing the best possible responses in these sensitive matters. Members of the Professional Council should also possess knowledge of the work environment for employees and students, and administration at the University of Iceland. Proposals regarding individual representatives on the Professional Council shall take the above into account.
The rules of procedure address the processing of a case in further detail. They provide information on where complaints can be filed, emphasising that all matters be referred immediately to the Professional Council, which shall make further decisions on professional case procedure. Investigation into a case and responses shall be discussed as the investigation is underway, and after a conclusion is reached. The Professional Council may set itself further criteria and rules regarding case procedure, as required. The Professional Council should take into account the primary rules on good administration. It should however be stated that the Professional Council only makes decisions related to the procedure of these cases, and these decisions therefore cannot be appealed. The Professional Council issues a statement and proposes responses to the relevant parties at UI, who are in turn responsible for making the necessary administrative decisions in a case involving employees or students, observing relevant rules on case procedure and the substance of a decision.