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Schooling Silence: Sexual Harassment and its Presence and Perception at Uganda's Universities and Secondary Schools Open Access

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Although reports indicate that a majority of students in Uganda are sexually abused while in school, sexual harassment and its impact on educational attainment is a rampant yet understudied problem (The Uganda National Strategic Plan on Violence Against Children in Schools, 2015). While harassment in schools by teachers and students is not the only factor leading to high dropout rates among students, the behavior of teachers and students in school, and the lack of discipline towards their actions is an internal contribution to this effect. This study aims to better understand the perceptions on what constitutes "sexual harassment" in Uganda (specifically sexual harassment in schools), if this conversational definition matches up with what the legal definition currently is, and to also assess the effectiveness of reporting systems on sexual harassment and what can be done to improve what is currently inefficient. Through focus groups with secondary school students and university students (n=13), as well as key informant interviews (n=10), participants were asked how they defined sexual harassment, how they came to know about it, and the barriers they saw to speaking up about it. Findings indicate that though the perceptions and definitions of sexual harassment are varied, young people perceive this to be a problem of great concern in schools. Despite this perception, schools themselves effectively foster a culture of silence around the topic of sexual harassment, ultimately resulting in ineffective reporting procedures and an environment that shames and mentally disturbs survivors. Recommendations include comprehensive anti-sexual harassment education mechanisms and the creation of distinct anti-sexual harassment policies that separate this action from other forms of "bad behavior" that violate schools' codes of conduct.

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