Italian lessons in sexual favours

September 5, 1997

A voluntary resistance group, which offers help to female victims of sexual harassment at the University of Bari, is promoting Italy's first national forum on the problem of the relationship between sex and power in universities.

The forum has already gained the support of the university's rector, equal opportunities commissions and the local town council in its bid to expose and combat the allegedly prevalent male chauvinist attitude in universities.

An open letter from the group to the rector revealed exam passes being offered in exchange for sexual favours as either succeeding to the mutual satisfaction of both parties, or else resulting in female students rushing out of the exam room in tears.

Bari rector Aldo Cossu said he was aware of such misdemeanours and invited victims to report them to him directly. He added, "But as long as the principle of collective silence (omerta) continues to prevail. It will never be possible to pursue these matters effectively."

Ida Mastromarino said the problem was cultural. She said: "The absence of adequate legislation to protect the rights of students, witnesses and professors is responsible for an unwillingness to make official complaints. "Six months ago the European Commission harshly criticised member countries for failure to implement EU directives in adopting a global approach to combating sexual harassment in the workplace. So far only Belgium and Holland have reacted."

Silvia Godelli, a politician, psychologist and a lecturer at Bari, said the problem was a logical extension of a general lack of respect towards students.

"Exams, for example, are commonly conducted in a manner that is debasing and humiliating for students. Particularly in the larger, 30,000-plus universities there is neither moral nor didactic control.

"Twenty years ago when there was more solidarity among students, professors thought twice before acting. Nowadays, for complex social reasons including fear of unemployment, individualism has replaced this, and the average student accepts moral compromise in the interests of getting on."

In July La Repubblica reported the demand for a commission and freephone service by student representatives at the University of Siena following their complaint about "cases of sexual harassment which have been common knowledge".

But Siena rector Piero Tosi said that no such cases had been brought to his attention.

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