With the continued prominence of the #MeToo movement in acknowledging the prevalence of workplace assault, the past year has been a watershed moment for holding accountable perpetrators of sexual harassment, assault and coercion. In Pennsylvania, a bombshell grand jury report in August brought allegations of more than 1,000 instances of sexual assault of children by Catholic priests. And late in 2017, former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar was convicted of 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct after being accused by more than 250 women.
Even before such high-profile cases, Jamie Mansell, associate professor of instruction in the Department of Kinesiology, saw a worrying trend. In the world of athletics, it’s not just the athletes who are survivors of sexual harassment: One study has indicated that more than 60 percent of female athletic trainers were sexually harassed as a student or professional. Despite the prevalence, many athletic trainers are never coached in ways to respond to sexual harassment. In a new study, Mansell and a team of researchers looked at just how often that training is missing.
“Our students and clinicians are in vulnerable positions, and we would hear stories from students that didn’t sit well with us,” said Mansell. “We thought, do students know what to do when these things happen to them?”
They surveyed 885 athletic training students, both male and female, from across the United States about sexual harassment training in their programs. Students were asked about their knowledge of harassment resources at their school, details of the sexual harassment training they received (if they received it) and their perception of the people with whom they could discuss instances of sexual harassment. The results, published in the Athletic Training Education Journal in 2017, earned Mansell the journal’s annual award for Outstanding Original Research Manuscript.
The researchers found that more than half of the students did not receive sexual harassment training as part of their AT curriculum, and a lack of training corresponded to a lack of knowing what resources were available. Of the 41 percent of students who did receive training, nearly 60 percent received it from an external source—including informally, such as from parents or through an organization like the Boy Scouts. As a result, the efficacy of these trainings is inconsistent.
In addition, more than 80 percent of respondents said they would report harassment to a program director, but only about 25 percent would report to public safety or campus police. There were also differences according to gender: Fewer female students reported that they received training, though there was no significant difference between gender and the knowledge of available resources.
While the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training has created guidelines and standards to keep students physically safe in clinical experiences and rotations, there has not been a similar push to provide sexual harassment training and protections. These results point to the need for standardized sexual harassment training in athletic training programs, says Mansell.
“Students need to know how to identify harassment and what the reporting structure should be,” she said. “We are trying to protect our students as they go out into field experiences and clinical practice.”
Mansell and the team are now analyzing data about students’ ability to identify when harassment happens. They then hope to create training sessions based on these findings and test how these sessions inform students’ perceptions of sexual harassment.