Good sociological research illuminates how individuals in society interact with social institutions and with one another. Sometimes, this research can uncover some of the feel-good aspects of social life. Other times, it can leave you despairing for humanity and raging against social structures.
A new report by Marquette University sociologist Heather Hlavka evokes the latter feelings. Analyzing over 100 interviews with girls aged 3 to 17 who may have been sexually assaulted, Hlavka found that the majority of these young women didn’t see themselves as victims because they considered sexual harassment a “normal” part of everyday life and male behavior.
For years, politicians, pundits, academics, and community advocates have been troubled by the staggering statistic that 60% of sexual assault and harassment goes unreported. Hlavka’s research speaks to some of the reasons behind this figure. Beyond the normalization of sexual harassment and assault, she finds that assaults go unreported out of shame, fear of retribution, and mistrust of authority. This mistrust extends to male authority figures, including police officers, to whom many of these women and girls would report an assault.
Hlavka sees her study as a call to action. Changing the way we think about sexual assault and sexual harassment might be a big step toward stopping it.
You can watch Hlavka discuss her research on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.