Silicon Valley Sociological Review


Online sexual harassment has continued to be a pervasive force in universities. Scholarship suggests that female-identifying students experience particularly high rates of sexual harassment, but little research explores how it manifests in online spaces. Thus, we investigate whether women students at Santa Clara University (SCU) experience online sexual harassment, and what forms of harassment they experience. First, a survey of 50 women undergraduate students was conducted to assess whether respondents had experienced online sexual harassment, and if so, on which platforms. Selecting from survey respondents who opted-in for further research, we conducted semi-structured ethnographic interviews with four students about their experiences with online sexual harassment. In addition, we performed participant observation of an SCU Violence Prevention Program "Post-Election Debrief' event and observed the documentary Netizens, which followed the lives of women who have experienced extreme cyber harassment. The transcription and coding of our ethnographic data revealed six key themes: Social Media, Forms of Sexual Harassment, Impact of Sexual Harassment, Toxic Masculine Culture, Normalization, and Suggestions for Improvements. Our findings indicate that women students at SCU experienced many forms of online sexual harassment, which varied depending on the social media platforms students were active on. This online harassment is normalized within a wider context of gendered power dynamics offline, embodied by a culture of toxic masculinity at Santa Clara University. Importantly, respondents and interviewees strongly emphasized their suggestions for improvement at SCU, which included increasing institutional accountability, implementing preventative and educational programs for students regarding online sexual harassment, and encouraging conversation about sexual violence within the SCU community.