Female students especially victimized by sexual transgressive behavior

Female students especially victimized by sexual transgressive behavior

Sexist comments, sexually oriented messages, and jokes or unwanted intimate touching. Research by forensic psychology students shows that female students are more likely to experience transgressive behavior compared to male students. For supervising lecturer Cedric Stalpers of the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, this is no surprise: “Women are the stronger gender as far as I’m concerned.”

Image: khorkins / Shutterstock

A year after the revelations about abuses on the TV show The Voice of Holland, abuse of power is high on the public agenda. Several cases came to light afterwards: dick picks by former Ajax executive Marc Overmars and sexist jokes by Johan Derksen and members of the Amsterdamsch Studenten Corps (in Dutch). The academic world did not have a lucky escape either: professors in Leiden and Leuven were recently accused of sexual harassment.

Enough reasons for forensic psychology students to survey sexually transgressive behavior among the Tilburg student population. They wanted to know how often students are victims of sexual harassment and investigated what it does to them psychologically. More than 378 students completed a questionnaire last summer. The main conclusion: female students in particular are victims of sexually transgressive behavior.

Unwanted intimate touching

More than seventy-four percent of female students reported having been victims of unwanted intimate touching. Sixty percent of this group of women have at one time or another been kissed unsolicited. In addition, forty percent of them have had an experience in which someone else insisted on sex without their consent. A quarter of them even report having experienced a situation where someone else unwantedly attempted sex. Interestingly, only twenty-five percent of male students were ever victims of unwanted intimate touching.

Cedric Stalpers, assistant professor at the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, is not surprised by the research findings: “Sexual transgressive behavior gets a lot of media attention for a reason. Women are frequent victims of sexual harassment and increasingly dare to come forward with it.”

Transgressive behavior typically occurs off campus

So it is common for students to experience sexual harassment, but what are the consequences for the victims? The forensic psychology students investigated that too: “Our research shows that students who have to deal with sexual harassment do not feel ‘more insecure’ because of this behavior. Except victims of sexual coercion: they report being dejected more often and feeling less safe. The fact that many women regularly experience sexual harassment and still stand tall shows, as far as I’m concerned, that they are the strong gender.”

In addition, the survey found that transgressive behavior generally occurs off campus (83%). Seventeen percent of the survey population reported being victims of transgressive behavior “within the campus sphere.” This includes experiences during the introductory period or transgressive behavior by another student, such as lewd and sexist remarks. According to Stalpers, any manifestation of transgressive behavior is one too many. Yet, he is also somewhat relieved: “None of the students surveyed indicated that a university lecturer crossed the line.”


In addition to sexually transgressive behavior, the forensic psychology students also conducted research on bullying behavior. The survey results show that men and women are victims of bullying to an equal extent. Strikingly—from this first survey research—bullying seems to have the most negative long-term consequences of all surveyed forms of (sexually) transgressive behavior: “Bullying is negatively related to one’s own body image, mood, self-confidence, and life satisfaction. Possibly, it is taken personally by the respondent, while sexually transgressive behavior says more about the perpetrator,” Stalpers explains.

How you experience certain situations varies from person to person

Subjective experiences

Still, it remains difficult to compare different experiences of (sexually) transgressive behavior and to make solid statements about them. When asked how the forensic psychology students’ research takes into account the subjectivity of individual experiences (in Dutch), Stalpers replied, “I don’t dare compare the harmful effects of bullying with other forms of (sexually) transgressive behavior. We did not examine the individual sensitivity of our respondents. That is a limitation of our research.”

After all, how you experience certain situations varies from person to person. For example, one person may experience hardly any psychological damage from a sexual assault. While someone else suffers it for a long time. Similarly, someone who is bullied may judge his life just as badly as someone who has had to deal with a rape.

Assertiveness does seem to affect the state of mind: “We asked students if they consider themselves assertive (in Dutch). What appears? Students who stood up for themselves rated their state of mind more positively than students who did not consider themselves assertive,” Stalpers explained.

Under Stalpers’ direction, a new batch of thesis students is currently studying the psychological effects of rape. In addition, Stalpers is working with Master’s theses researchers on a new study of students’ subjective well-being and sexual assertiveness. “The results of this study are still pouring in. In a few weeks, I hope to be able to share more about the main findings of this study,” Stalpers says.

Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel

Bekijk meer recent nieuws

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief

Blijf op de hoogte. Meld je aan voor de nieuwsbrief van Univers.