Published on in Vol 12 (2023)

Preprints (earlier versions) of this paper are available at, first published .
Investigating the Culture Around Sexual Harassment in First-Generation Universities in Southwestern Nigeria: Protocol for a Mixed Methods Study

Investigating the Culture Around Sexual Harassment in First-Generation Universities in Southwestern Nigeria: Protocol for a Mixed Methods Study

Investigating the Culture Around Sexual Harassment in First-Generation Universities in Southwestern Nigeria: Protocol for a Mixed Methods Study


1Department of Mental Health, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

2Brown University School of Public Health, Providence, RI, United States

Corresponding Author:

Boladale Mapayi, MBChB, MSc, PhD

Department of Mental Health, Faculty of Clinical Sciences

College of Health Sciences

Obafemi Awolowo University

Ile-Ife, 220005


Phone: 234 08033930096


Background: The phenomenon of sexual harassment (SH) is a complex issue with multiple prongs that concerns all members of academia and raises serious challenges, particularly regarding prevention and response. SH in tertiary institutions remains a huge problem worldwide, leading to severe emotional, academic, and career difficulties, as well as undue suffering. Institutions have responded in various ways to alleviate the burden of SH with little success, especially in Nigeria. The prevalence is high but reportage is low because of the culture of silence around SH in most educational institutions. This study aims to identify factors associated with SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and explore factors surrounding reportage or nonreportage following the experience of SH, the institutional mechanisms to prevent and respond to SH, and the lived experience of survivors of SH.

Objective: The objective of this study was to present a study protocol that is designed to identify factors associated with the experience of SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, the institutional mechanisms to prevent and respond to SH, and the lived experience of survivors of SH.

Methods: A mixed (quantitative and qualitative) methods approach is used consisting of a policy review of existing antisexual harassment policies in the selected universities, a quantitative survey to determine the correlates of SH, focus group discussions to explore the perspectives of the university community concerning SH, in-depth interviews to explore the lived experiences of survivors of SH, and key informant interviews to understand the perspectives of people who provide interventions to survivors.

Results: This study was funded in July 2022 by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa, and data collection started in November 2022. The SH policies were comprehensive, with clear policy statements and definitions, and recognized a wide range of survivors and perpetrators. However, there was no clear mention of prevention and response to same-sex SH. Lived experiences showed negative psychological and social sequelae and little institutional support.

Conclusions: This is the first study that has a component investigating same-sex SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. This is also one of the first studies to explore the lived experiences of survivors of SH in Nigerian universities. The findings from this study suggest that periodic evaluation of SH policy implementation will improve institutional support, thus creating safe spaces for survivors and will thereby encourage reportage and support; prevention and response strategies need to be more inclusive; and more interventions should focus on strengthening prosocial skills and healthy, equitable relationships.

International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID): DERR1-10.2196/49126

JMIR Res Protoc 2023;12:e49126




Sexual harassment (SH) in educational institutions remains a pervasive problem, and the institutional climate is still the best predictor of the occurrence of SH [1]. SH is not easy to define, partly because it does not involve a homogenous set of behaviors [2]. However, it includes requests for sexual favors and verbal or physical sexual activities in exchange for using or awarding academic marks [3]. When the advances are rejected, a hostile learning environment is created.

There are 2 main types of SH that are recognized in the literature. These include quid pro quo harassment, which is typically exchanging sex for benefits (usually performance or academic favors) or to avoid some detriment (demotion at work or academic failure), and a hostile environment (when speech or conduct creates an intimidating or humiliating environment that negatively affects an individual’s academic or job performance) [4]. Till [5] categorized SH as gender harassment when general sexist or offensive remarks and jokes were made, seductive behavior when inappropriate flirting and sexual advances were made without threat of sanctions, sexual bribery when there was a reward for sexual activity, sexual coercion when the conditions of education were contingent upon sexual cooperation, and sexual imposition also known as sexual assault. Although it is usually easy to identify less ambiguous forms of SH (sexual bribery, sexual coercion, and sexual imposition), it is more difficult to define the more ambiguous forms of SH (gender harassment and seductive behavior), especially gender harassment, which is by far the most prevalent type of SH [1].

The global prevalence of SH in tertiary institutions is high. More than a third of university women in the United Kingdom reported having experienced unwelcome sexual advances (touching, including inappropriate groping) [6]. Nearly 18% of 221 Lebanese women in educational institutions reported being harassed by their professors [7]. In Canada, >80% of the female students surveyed had been sexually harassed in a school setting [8].

In Nigeria, SH came into the limelight through the Cookey Commission panel that was established to address allegations of female students failing examinations for reasons not based on their scholastic abilities [9]. The prevalence of SH in tertiary institutions is higher in Nigeria, ranging from 68% to 80% among female participants [10-12]. The wide range of prevalence rates may reflect the use of diverse instruments to measure SH.

Survivors and perpetrators of SH can be lecturers, students, administrative staff, and any gender [13], although more women than men experience SH and more men than women are likely to be perpetrators [1,8,14]. There are also cases of same-sex SH in tertiary institutions [15], although this experience is less explored. It must be noted that more studies have focused on female students as survivors and men as perpetrators [16,17].

Macrolevel factors for SH range from weak educational systems; low levels of institutional accountability; high population levels of poverty; gender inequality; and poorly trained, underpaid, and understaffed educators [18]. Factors that have been linked to SH in Nigerian universities include contextual societal factors such as gender stereotypes, oppression of women, the patriarchal construct of manhood, the patriarchal configuration of many African societies, communal pressure to secrecy, and the lack of specific policies that address the problem of SH [11,19].

Indecent dressing has been cited in the Nigerian literature as a factor in whether an individual will experience SH or not. This often leads to “victim-blaming.” A common recommendation in the literature is the propriety of dressing for females as a means to prevent SH [12,20-25]. However, confounding factors such as a high sex drive of individual perpetrators have not been fully investigated in this setting [26].

SH in tertiary institutions is a huge concern because of its associated adverse effects [1] such as suboptimal academic fulfillment and withdrawal from academic activities [27,28]; psychological distress with symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, self-blame, lowered self-esteem, and generally impaired psychological well-being [29-32]; and physical health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep problems, gastric problems, nausea, respiratory complaints, musculoskeletal pain, and weight loss or gain [33,34].

It is known that because of the complexity of SH, the timing, duration, and severity of these effects will vary depending on the individuals affected. Adverse effects are found with gender harassment (the most common) as well as unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion [35]. These adverse effects seem to be worse when SH is committed by a superior than when committed by peers [36], but it is established that individual reactions vary greatly [37].

SH in colleges and universities is grossly underreported [2]. Survivors rarely report their SH experiences. This is often because of unequal power relations; the fear of loss of status, marks, or job as retaliation; and the associated stigma that it brings [38,39]. Survivors cope with SH in many ways, including by ignoring or appeasing the harasser or seeking social support [1].

The prevalence and associated factors of SH in Nigeria have been investigated [6,7,10,11] but few studies have explored the reasons why SH is underreported and what can be done to improve reporting. In addition, there are no methodical studies on the assertion that indecent dressing is a risk factor for SH [12,20-22], and most studies on SH in Nigeria have focused almost exclusively on heterosexual SH, despite the possible risk of same-sex SH. This study will investigate the culture associated with SH in universities in Nigeria.

This study is based on the integrated conceptualization of SH, founded on the synthesis of the work by Hofstede [40] and Schwartz [41], which explored behaviors directed toward women in different countries and cultures. Luthar and Luthar [42] proposed that the likelihood of experiencing SH perpetrated by men, as well as the tolerance of SH by women, vary between different countries because of the fundamental differences in cultures and values. This study seeks to explore how culture may influence the perception and response to SH experiences in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. However, the study will expand its inquiry to explore how the sociocultural context of same-sex relationships may affect the perception and response of people in same-sex relationships who experience SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

This Study

This study aimed to identify factors associated with the experience of SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, the institutional mechanisms to prevent and respond to SH, and the lived experiences of survivors of SH; explore how the experiences of SH survivors differ between men and women in heterosexual and same-sex relationships; and interrogate how sociocultural contexts and perceptions about dressing, including institutional practices, may influence the experience and responses of survivors to SH perpetrated in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Research Design

This study used a concurrent mixed methods design that consisted of a policy review, a quantitative survey, focus group discussions (FGDs), in-depth interviews (IDIs), and key informant interviews (KIIs).

Study Sites

The study focused on the experiences of staff and students at tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. There are >170 universities in Nigeria, of which 79 are privately owned and 43 are funded by the federal government [43]. The study recruited participants from 3 public universities owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, located in southwest Nigeria. The study focused on public tertiary institutions that have existed for >60 years and have a large student and staff population.

The study was also limited to southwest Nigeria because of the homogeneity in the cultural norms and practices of this region. The 3 institutions selected for this study are in the Yoruba-speaking area of southwest Nigeria. Common ties in the language and practices of the community in which the 3 institutions are located may enhance the use of a sociocultural lens to explore the findings of this study.

Study Population

The target population for this study comprised staff and students of the selected institutions. Study participants were staff or students of the 3 selected universities who were aged >18 years and who gave consent to participate in the study. Staff or students who were severely physically or mentally ill and who lacked the capacity to participate in the study were excluded.

Quantitative Study

Sample Size Determination

The sample size for the survey was computed based on a sample size formula using a margin of error of 2.5%, a confidence level of 95%, and a population estimate of 120,000. The minimum sample per institution was 506 participants and 1518 participants for the study. This was increased to 550 participants per institution to adjust for possible incomplete responses to the questionnaire and to increase the power for subanalyses such as for sex differences. Thus, 1650 participants were surveyed from the 3 institutions using a proportionate sampling technique.

Data Collection Procedures

The quantitative survey was developed to explore the perceptions of university community members about SH. The survey focused on the experience of and risk indicators for SH (including mental health determinants) and the reporting of cases within the university community. The survey also explored perceptions of the link between dressing and SH. The questionnaire consisted of questions from validated instruments that measure the phenomena of interest. These were (1) the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ) to measure the experience of SH, (2) the Administrator‐Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative tool to measure the campus climate, (3) the Campus Conduct Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct tool to measure the institutional response, (4) pictures and questionnaire items to assess the tendency to perceive a link between provocative dressing and SH, (5) the Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire to measure sexual desire, (6) the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 (PHQ-4) to measure anxiety and depression, and (7) the Suicidal Behavior Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R) to measure suicidal behavior.

SEQ Measure

The SEQ is the most widely used and validated measure of SH to date [44]. It was developed and validated by Fitzgerald et al [45]. The SEQ has been used in different settings and with different population groups over time. It has been noted that the factor structure of the SEQ (gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion) has remained stable across time, culture, and the occupational sector, even when there were variations in the specific items assessing each construct with good psychometric properties [46].

Administrator‐Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative Tool

The Administrator‐Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative tool is the result of collaborative efforts by students, legal affairs professionals, campus advocates, campus law enforcement, and sexual assault and harassment researchers [47]. The tool is organized into different modules that allow researchers to determine the length and content of their surveys. They include modules on possible outcomes (which encompasses a standardized 4-item measure of depression and anxiety [PHQ-4]), demographics, campus safety, SH by students and staff (which used questions from the SEQ), and institutional response [46]. All the measures mentioned above were used in this study.

Campus Conduct Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct

The Campus Conduct Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct is a survey questionnaire developed by the Association of American Universities [48]. This questionnaire assessed students’ perceptions of experiencing sexual assault or sexual misconduct and their perceptions of institutional response to reporting.

The Provocativeness of Dressing

The sexual provocativeness of dressing was assessed by presenting the research participants with 4 pictures, comprising 2 each of a male and a female dressed provocatively and nonprovocatively. Each respondent was shown each of the 4 pictures separately and asked a series of questions concerning them. A total of 2 pictures were shown, each for males and females, respectively. There was 1 picture per sex that depicted a nonprovocative dressing and a sexually provocative dressing. The pictures were taken by a professional photographer using the same background and similar postures as the models. The faces of the models were pixelated to ensure anonymity. The participants were asked to rate the 4 pictures for sexual provocativeness of dressing on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not provocative at all) to 7 (extremely provocative) [49,50]. The participants were further asked to indicate the extent to which they expected the individual in the picture to experience SH. This was assessed with the single-item question scored on a Likert scale, such as “How likely is the person in the photograph to be sexually harassed?” (7=likely and 1=not likely).

A pilot study was conducted among 70 students of the Obafemi Awolowo University who were not included in the main study to select the pictures to be used for assessing the sexual provocativeness of dressing. These were selected as follows: 6 pictures each of male and female models in different forms of dressing were taken by a professional photographer with a similar background. The faces of the models were pixelated to ensure anonymity. Each picture was graded based on the level of sexual provocativeness of the dressing on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (not provocative at all) to 7 (extremely provocative). A total of 4 pictures labeled the most provocative and least provocative, 2 each for both males and females were then used in the main study.

Using questions adapted from Moor [51], participants’ perceptions about the motivation of people for wearing provocative clothing as well as their reaction to people wearing such clothing items, were assessed. Participants were instructed to rate motivations for wearing provocative clothes by indicating how much they agreed with 10 statements such as “they wish to feel attractive” or “they intend to convey an interest in sex,” on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Participants were also asked about their own customary style of dress and their own motivations for that style. Participants were instructed to respond to 7 questions on a 3-point scale (1 indicating “no,” 2 “sometimes,” and 3 “yes”), such as “Do you dress provocatively in order to feel attractive?” or “Do you dress provocatively to be seductive?”

Furthermore, they were asked about their responses to people who wear what they perceive to be provocative clothing. Items included such questions as “Do you feel that provocatively dressed people are attempting to tempt you?” or “Are you aroused by provocatively dressed people?”

Sexual Desire

Sexual desire was assessed using 6 questions from the Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire [52], which assessed sexual desire and ease of arousal. Each item was rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always). Higher scores indicated higher sexual motivation and attribution for personal or others’ dressing.

PHQ-4 Questionnaire

The PHQ-4 to measure anxiety and depression [53] is a 4-item self-screening measure that combines the items of the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale-2, which both contain the 2 core items of depressive and generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. It is used to assess anxiety and depression. It is scored on a 4-point Likert scale, with responses ranging from 0 (“not at all”) to 1 (“several days”), 2 (“more than half of the days”), or 3 (“nearly every day”), with a maximum possible score of 12.

The PHQ-4 compares favorably to the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form Health Survey subscales in that increasing PHQ-4 scores correlate significantly with declining functional status [53]. It has a high internal consistency, with a Cronbach α of >.80 among the patient population in the United States [53], which compares to a study in Tanzania by Materu et al [54], who reported a Cronbach α of .81. It has good construct validity and has been validated in Germany [55], the United States [56], and Africa [54].

SBQ-R Questionnaire

The SBQ-R is a 4-item self-administered questionnaire designed to assess the lifetime and 1-year history, frequency, and severity of suicidal behaviors [57]. Each item in the SBQ-R scale measures a different dimension of suicidal behavior, and it has been found to be straightforward, brief, and easy for participants to complete [58]. The total score on the SBQ-R ranges from 3 to 18, with higher scores reflecting a greater risk of suicidal behavior. The questionnaire exhibited a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 91% at a cutoff point of 8 in a sample of adult American psychiatric inpatients [58]. In Nigeria, the questionnaire has been shown to be a valid and reliable suicide risk assessment tool among adolescents and young adults, with a cutoff point of 8 [59].

The data were collected using a secured web-based platform—Google Docs platform. Study participants who were recruited had the option of self-administering the questionnaire using a shared link or using a tablet operated by research assistants (RAs). Students and staff in each institution were categorized by faculties into 3 clusters: Science, Social science, and Arts. In total, 5 Departments were randomly selected from the faculties in each faculty cluster using a ballot. The RAs attended the lecture halls of the selected departments and approached the students. The RAs ensured that all the levels in any chosen department were represented. In addition, links were shared when more than 1 participant was eligible to fill out the questionnaire at the same time. Informed consent was obtained verbally before sending links to the participants, which was also the first question on the web-based questionnaire page.

Data Analyses

All quantitative data were coded and entered into SPSS (version 20; IBM Corp) for descriptive analyses. All continuous variables were expressed as means (SD), and categorical variables were summarized using frequencies and percentages. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses with SH as the outcome variable were used to investigate the relationships between the predictors and SH, as stated in the objectives of the study. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses with the likelihood of SH as the outcome variable and sociodemographic characteristics, dressing perception, and sex drive as the predictors were performed. For all quantitative analyses, we repeated the analyses with male and female participants to test for sex differences. Differences in sex and sexual orientation were investigated at all levels of the analyses. A P value of <.05 was considered statistically significant.

Qualitative Study

Sample Size and Technique

This had two levels:

  1. Desk review: a purposive sampling approach was adopted to identify, screen, and select policy documents on SH across the 3 institutions. All the documents were analyzed based on their contents.
  2. IDIs, KIIs, and FGDs: participants were recruited for the interviews and the FGDs. Purposive sampling was adopted to identify and recruit key informants from the Directorate of Student Affairs and from members of the antisexual harassment and disciplinary committees in each of the 3 universities. A total of 5 KIIs were conducted in each institution. Both students and staff who had survived SH were targeted for the IDIs. Recruitment was conducted through interactions with the core units of each university, such as the Directorate of Student Affairs, the security unit, the personnel unit, and nongovernmental organizations that have had interactions with SH survivors across the 3 universities. The recruitment and interview processes ensured privacy, confidentiality, and the freedom to share experiences without reservation. In total, 4 IDIs were conducted in each institution. The medium for conducting the interviews (face-to-face, through telephone, or through video calls) was chosen by the study participants.

The FGD participants were randomly selected through multiple calls on identified portals for students and staff at the targeted universities to join a FGD on SH. Participants were chosen based on their consent to participate. Equal gender representation was prioritized. The sample size for the FGDs ranged from 6 to 10 participants per session. A total of 2 student and 1 staff FGD session were held per university.

Data Collection Procedures

IDIs, KIIs, and FGDs: The IDIs focused on the experience of SH from the perspective of the survivor, the consequences, whether it was reported, the outcomes, and how the survivor felt about the outcome. The KIIs focused on the perceptions of counselors, SH committee members, and student and faculty on disciplinary committees on SH, institutional response, their experiences, and issues around vicarious trauma. The FGDs were conducted to explore the university community’s perception of SH, its determinants, and how it can be prevented. The focus was also on how dressing is related to SH and the perceptions around same-sex SH.

Data Analysis

Desk review consisted of a content analysis of existing SH policies in the 3 selected universities, conducted between September 2022 and February 2023. Common themes and areas of divergence will be highlighted. In addition, the analysis attempted to determine how well the policies aligned with global best practices in the SH field. This was performed by the principal investigator (PI) and coinvestigators.

Analysis of the IDIs, the KIIs, and the FGDs commenced with verbatim transcription of the audio recordings to a Word (Microsoft Corporation) document to avoid misrepresentation and minimize bias. The accuracy, integrity, and completeness of all transcriptions were verified by the PI and coinvestigators by passing them through a 2-level proofreading. At each level, the recordings were listened to and read along with the typed transcripts, ensuring that all discrepancies were corrected. Then, a thematic analysis was conducted, all transcripts were coded by 3 experts, areas of divergence were resolved, and the analysis was managed using NVivo 12 Pro (QSR International). The interviews and the FGDs were synthesized and presented under subheadings to answer the research questions.

Data Management and Storage

The data collected using web-based surveys was stored on a secure, password-protected laptop. The audio recordings were destroyed immediately after transcription, and deidentified transcripts were saved on a password-protected computer that only the PI, coinvestigator, and statistician had access to. An external hard drive was used as the backup and was stored using a password. The transcripts were shared only with the other members of the research team.

Ethical Considerations

The research protocol was submitted for ethical review, and approval was received from the Institute of Public Health Research Ethics Committee (IPH/OAU/12/2028), Obafemi Awolowo University, the University of Ibadan Health Research Ethics Committee (UI/EC/22/0313), and the University of Lagos Health Research Ethics Committee (CMUL/HREC/08/22/1082). Written consent was obtained from the participants. Ethics approval at all 3 institutions was obtained between August and September 2022. Preliminary meetings with stakeholders across the 3 universities took place between September and October 2022. Training for the RAs took place in September 2022. Confidentiality was ensured and psychological first aid was offered to interview participants. Furthermore, referrals for therapy were offered to participants who exhibited or reported distress, although none of them took up the offer.

Knowledge Dissemination

The findings of the project will be summarized and disseminated through the development of institution-specific policy briefs detailing SH issues revealed during the study, which will be given to each institution during a dissemination meeting with recommendations on how to improve prevention and response to SH. In addition, findings from the study will be shared with the scientific community through the presentation of papers at regional or international conference(s) and the publication of scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. The findings will also be shared with the general public on the project website.

This study was funded in July 2022 by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa, and data collection started in November 2022. Ethical approval at all 3 institutions was obtained between August and September 2022. Preliminary meetings with stakeholders across the 3 universities took place between September and October 2022. Training for the RAs took place in September 2022. Content analysis of the antisexual harassment policies of the 3 selected universities took place between September 2022 and February 2023. Recruitment and data collection for both the quantitative survey and the qualitative study took place concurrently between November 2022 and February 2023.

The data from the IDIs has been developed into a manuscript titled “Stifled screams: experiences of survivors of SH in first-generation southwestern Nigerian universities,” which has been published in the Social Sciences (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute).

The SH policies were comprehensive with clear policy statements and definitions, and recognized a wide range of survivors and perpetrators. However, there was no clear mention of the prevention and response to same-sex SH. The forms of SH experienced ranged from physical touch to assault, attempted rape, and rape. The locations of the incidents included the perpetrator’s abode, office, lecture theater, library, and a party. Survivors used several coping mechanisms, including talking with peers, joining social clubs, and heavy drinking. Consequences included not trusting others, blaming themselves, and feeling sad, suicidal, angry, and guilty.

The data analysis for the quantitative survey is ongoing. Dissemination meetings for the selected universities, presentations at scientific conferences, and subsequent publications in peer-reviewed journals are expected to be completed before the end of 2023.

Principal Findings

To our knowledge, this is the first study that has a component investigating same-sex SH in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. It is also one of the first studies to explore the lived experiences of survivors of SH in Nigerian universities. This study hypothesizes that there will be a high prevalence of SH in the selected institutions; however, there will be underreportage of SH, and many students will find the institutional measures inadequate to curb SH. Globally, most studies have shown mixed results on the prevalence of SH in tertiary institutions [10,60-65]. Numerous studies have shown that both males and females are survivors of SH, although females are more affected [66,67]. Factors that influence nonreportage among students include shame, fear of retribution by the lecturer, and godfatherism, among others [38,39,68]. There has been extensive research regarding dressing and SH [12,20-25,51], with mixed results; some studies found that provocative dressing increased the likelihood of an individual being sexually harassed [69,70].

Although the 3 universities have antisexual harassment policies, reports of SH still appear in the news from these universities [60-62] signifying that the existence of SH policies is not enough to curb SH. It is hoped that the dissemination of content analysis will emphasize the need to supervise the implementation of institutional SH policies to improve prevention and response. In addition, the reports from lived experiences highlighted survivors’ experiences of SH, the mental health consequences, how they have coped, the responses from their institutions, and barriers to reporting both to the institutions and law enforcement agencies. It has been shown that the lived experiences of survivors can be a powerful tool for advocacy and action in the response to SH [66]. The survey focused on the prevalence and correlates of SH, focusing on gender differences and differentiating between same-sex and heterosexual SH. It also examined the campus climate and how it influenced the experience of SH for the campus community.


One of the limitations of this study is that the quantitative aspect is cross-sectional and cannot be used to determine causality. The qualitative aspect of the study regarding the lived experiences of survivors is retrospective in nature and may be subject to recall bias.


It is hoped that the findings from this study will improve our understanding of the factors that drive SH among staff and students in tertiary education institutions in Nigeria and the risks susceptible populations face. This information will help with the design and implementation of policies and programs that can reduce the risk of susceptible populations to SH, in view of the long-term and or lifetime mental health consequences and social effects of SH on survivors and improve reportage among survivors. Future research needs to focus on contextualized interventions for the prevention and response to SH in tertiary institutions.


The research team would like to acknowledge the tremendous support received from the 3 selected universities and every survivor who spoke their truth. The authors acknowledge the support of Prof Morenike Afolayan.

This research was supported by the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa. The Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa is jointly led by the African Population and Health Research Center and the University of the Witwatersrand and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (grant G-19-57145), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida; grant 54100113), the Uppsala Monitoring Center, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Wellcome Trust (reference number 107768/Z/15/Z), and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, with support from the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science in Africa program. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the fellow.

Data Availability

The data sets generated during this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Authors' Contributions

BM, IO, and OO contributed to the conceptualization, literature review, and design of the study, as well as discussions and drafting of the manuscript. BM, IO, and OO assisted with the revision and drafting of the manuscript. AH provided further revision and supervision of the project. BM received funding for the article processing charges. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

None declared.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Policy and Global Affairs; Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in; Benya FF, Widnall SE, Johnson PA. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. New York, NY. National Academies Press; 2018.
  2. Joseph J. Sexual harassment in tertiary institutions: a comparative perspective. National Library of Serbia. 2015. URL: [accessed 2023-11-30]
  3. Sandler BR, Shoop RJ. Sexual Harassment on Campus: A Guide for Administrators, Faculty, and Students. Boston, MA. Allyn & Bacon; 1997.
  4. MacKinnon CA. Sexual Harassment Of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination. Volume 19. New Haven, CT. Yale University Press; 1979.
  5. Till FJ. Sexual Harassment: A Report on the Sexual Harassment of Students. Washington, DC. National Advisory Council on women's Educational Programs; 1980.
  6. Weale S. Sexual harassment rife at UK universities. The Guardian. 2014. URL: [accessed 2022-01-05]
  7. Lynch S. The fight against sexual harassment on Arab campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2013. URL:, [accessed 2022-01-15]
  8. Wolfe DA, Chiodo D, Ed M. Sexual harassment and related behaviours reported among youth from grade 9 to grade 11. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 1994. URL: [accessed 2023-12-04]
  9. Cookey R. Report of the Presidential Commission on Salary and Conditions of Service of University Staff. Lagos, Nigeria. Federal Government Printer; 1981.
  10. Owoaje ET, Olusola-Taiwo O. Sexual harassment experiences of female graduates of Nigerian tertiary institutions. Int Q Community Health Educ. Feb 14, 2009;30(4):337-348. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  11. Aina-Pelemo AD, Oke OA, Alade IT. Quid pro quo sexual harassment: comparative study of its occurrences in selected institutions in South-West, Nigeria. Curr Res Behav Sci. Nov 2021;2:100031. [CrossRef]
  12. Imonikhe J, Idogho P, Aluede O. A survey of teachers’ and students’ perception of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions of Edo State, Nigeria. Afr Res Rev. Nov 18, 2011;5(5) [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  13. Sharma Y. Harassment, sexual abuse corrupts education worldwide. University World News. Oct 2013. URL: [accessed 2023-11-30]
  14. Kelley ML, Parsons B. Sexual Harassment in the 1990s. J Higher Educ. Nov 2016;71(5):548-568. [CrossRef]
  15. Bendixen M, Kennair LE. Advances in the understanding of same-sex and opposite-sex sexual harassment. Evol Hum Behav. Sep 2017;38(5):583-591. [CrossRef]
  16. Runtz MG, O'Donnell CW. Students’ perceptions of sexual harassment: is it harassment only if the offender is a man and the victim is a woman? J Applied Social Pyschol. Jul 31, 2006;33(5):963-982. [CrossRef]
  17. Leach F, Humphreys S. Gender violence in schools: taking the ‘girls-as-victims’ discourse forward. Gend Dev. Feb 20, 2007;15(1):51-65. [CrossRef]
  18. Beninger C. Combating sexual violence in schools in sub-Saharan Africa: legal strategies under regional and international human rights law. Afr Hum Rights Law J. 2013;13(2):281-301. [FREE Full text]
  19. Ejike CO, Iheriohanma EBJ. Patriarchy, gender equality and the implications for productive development of the Nigerian worker. Eur Sci J. 2014;10(23):106-127. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  20. Bello PO. Combating sexual harassment in ivory tower in Nigeria: mixed feelings. Bangladesh e-J Sociol. Jan 2020;17(1):173-189. [FREE Full text]
  21. Aryeeteh EB. Coming to Terms With Sexual Harassment in Ghana. Legon, Ghana. Institute of Statistical, Social & Economic Research, University of Ghana; 2004.
  22. Omorogiuwa B. Sexual harassment among university students in Nigeria: prevalence, psychosocial factors and prevention. Bangladesh Educ J. 2018;17(2):26-33. [FREE Full text]
  23. Ogunbamero KA. Sexual Harassment in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions. Ibadan, Nigeria. Spectrum books; 2006.
  24. Suleiman MS. Perception of sexual harassment among female students of tertiary institutions in Northern Nigeria. Ife Soc Sci Rev. 2017;25(2):80-89. [FREE Full text]
  25. Akpotor J. Sexism and sexual harassment in tertiary institutions. Gend Behav. 2013;11(1):5237-5243. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  26. Wegner R, Abbey A, Pierce J, Pegram SE, Woerner J. Sexual assault perpetrators' justifications for their actions: relationships to rape supportive attitudes, incident characteristics, and future perpetration. Violence Against Women. Aug 08, 2015;21(8):1018-1037. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  27. Huerta M, Cortina LM, Pang JS, Torges CM, Magley VJ. Sex and power in the academy: modeling sexual harassment in the lives of college women. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. May 2006;32(5):616-628. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  28. Fitzgerald LF. Sexual harassment: the definition and measurement of a construct. US Department of Justice. 1996. URL: https:/​/www.​​ncjrs/​virtual-library/​abstracts/​sexual-harassment-definition-and-measurement-construct-sexual [accessed 2023-11-30]
  29. Bond MA, Punnett L, Pyle JL, Cazeca D, Cooperman M. Gendered work conditions, health, and work outcomes. J Occup Health Psychol. Jan 2004;9(1):28-45. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  30. Cortina L, Fitzgerald L, Drasgow F. Contextualizing Latina experiences of sexual harassment: preliminary tests of a structural model. Basic Appl Soc Psych. Jun 07, 2010;24(4):295-311. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  31. Langhout RD, Bergman ME, Cortina LM, Fitzgerald LF, Drasgow F, Williams JH. Sexual harassment severity: assessing situational and personal determinants and outcomes. J Appl Social Pyschol. May 2005;35(5):975-1007. [CrossRef]
  32. Lim S, Cortina LM. Interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace: the interface and impact of general incivility and sexual harassment. J Appl Psychol. May 2005;90(3):483-496. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  33. de Haas S, Timmerman G, Höing M. Sexual harassment and health among male and female police officers. J Occup Health Psychol. Oct 2009;14(4):390-401. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  34. Wasti SA, Bergman ME, Glomb TM, Drasgow F. Test of the cross-cultural generalizability of a model of sexual harassment. J Appl Psychol. Oct 2000;85(5):766-778. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  35. Sojo VE, Wood RE, Genat AE. Harmful workplace experiences and women’s occupational well-being. Psychol Women Q. Aug 27, 2015;40(1):10-40. [CrossRef]
  36. O'Connell CE, Korabik K. Sexual harassment: the relationship of personal vulnerability, work context, perpetrator status, and type of harassment to outcomes. J Vocat Behav. Jun 2000;56(3):299-329. [CrossRef]
  37. Maass A, Cadinu M, Galdi S. Sexual harassment: motivations and consequences. In: Ryan M, Branscombe NR, editors. The Sage Handbook of Gender and Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications; 2013;2013-2358.
  38. Caron SL, Mitchell D. "I've never told anyone": a qualitative analysis of interviews with college women who experienced sexual assault and remained silent. Violence Against Women. Jul 23, 2022;28(9):1987-2009. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  39. Spencer C, Mallory A, Toews M, Stith S, Wood L. Why sexual assault survivors do not report to universities: a feminist analysis. Fam Relat. May 16, 2017;66(1):166-179. [CrossRef]
  40. Hofstede G. Culture′s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Value. Beverly Hills, CA. Sage Publications; 1980.
  41. Schwartz SH. A theory of cultural values and some implications for work. Appl Psychol. Jul 27, 2007;48(1):23-47. [CrossRef]
  42. Luthar HK, Luthar VK. A theoretical framework explaining cross-cultural sexual harassment: integrating Hofstede and Schwartz. J Labor Res. 2007;28(1) [FREE Full text]
  43. Bello KA, Oyelaran OA, Bolaji BO, Awogbemi O, Adeodu AO, Busari A. Evaluation of engineering students output during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. In: Proceedings of the 2021 World Engineering Education Forum/Global Engineering Deans Council (. Presented at: WEEF/GEDC '21; November 15-18, 2021, 2021;177-182; Madrid, Spain. URL: [CrossRef]
  44. Cortina L, Berdahl JL. Sexual harassment in organizations: a decade of research in review. In: Barling J, Cooper CL, editors. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications; 2008;469-497.
  45. Fitzgerald LF, Shullman SL, Bailey N, Richards M, Swecker J, Gold Y, et al. The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. J Vocat Behav. Apr 1988;32(2):152-175. [CrossRef]
  46. Fitzgerald LF, Gelfand MJ, Drasgow F. Measuring sexual harassment: theoretical and psychometric advances. Basic Appl Soc Psych. 2023;17(4):425-445. [FREE Full text]
  47. Burke L, Iobhán O, Charlotte M, Kate D, Róisín O, Pádraig M. Sexual violence and harassment experiences in a national survey of higher education institutions. Union of Students in Ireland. URL: [accessed 2023-11-30]
  48. Cantor D, Fisher B, Chibnall S, Townsend R, Lee H, Bruce C, et al. Report on the AAU campus climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Westat. 2015. URL: https:/​/www.​​sites/​default/​files/​%40%20Files/​Climate%20Survey/​AAU_Campus_Climate_Survey_12_14_15.​pdf [accessed 2023-11-30]
  49. Johnson KK, Workman JE. Clothing and attributions concerning sexual harassment. J Home Econ Res. Jul 02, 2009;21(2):160-172. [CrossRef]
  50. Larocca MA, Kromrey JD. The perception of sexual harassment in higher education: impact of gender and attractiveness. Sex Roles. 1999;40:921-940. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  51. Moor A. She dresses to attract, he perceives seduction: a gender gap in attribution of intent to women’s revealing style of dress and its relation to blaming the victims of sexual violence. J Int Women's Stud. 2010;11(4):115-127. [FREE Full text]
  52. Clayton AH, McGarvey EL. Changes in sexual functioning questionnaire. In: Fisher TD, Davis CM, Yarber WL, Davis SL, editors. Handbook of Sexuality-Related Measures. Oxfordshire, UK. Routledge; 2011;290-295.
  53. Kroenke K, Spitzer RL, Williams JB, Löwe B. An ultra-brief screening scale for anxiety and depression: the PHQ–4. Psychosomatics. Nov 2009;50(6):613-621. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  54. Materu J, Kuringe E, Nyato D, Galishi A, Mwanamsangu A, Katebalila M, et al. The psychometric properties of PHQ-4 anxiety and depression screening scale among out of school adolescent girls and young women in Tanzania: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychiatry. Jun 19, 2020;20(1):321. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  55. Löwe B, Wahl I, Rose M, Spitzer C, Glaesmer H, Wingenfeld K, et al. A 4-item measure of depression and anxiety: validation and standardization of the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 (PHQ-4) in the general population. J Affect Disord. Apr 2010;122(1-2):86-95. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  56. Khubchandani J, Brey R, Kotecki J, Kleinfelder J, Anderson J. The psychometric properties of PHQ-4 depression and anxiety screening scale among college students. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. Aug 2016;30(4):457-462. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  57. Linehan MM, Nielsen SL. Assessment of suicide ideation and parasuicide: hopelessness and social desirability. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1981;49(5):773-775. [CrossRef]
  58. Osman A, Bagge CL, Gutierrez PM, Konick LC, Kopper BA, Barrios FX. The Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R): validation with clinical and nonclinical samples. Assessment. Dec 26, 2001;8(4):443-454. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  59. Aloba O, Ojeleye O, Aloba T. The psychometric characteristics of the 4-item Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R) as a screening tool in a non-clinical sample of Nigerian university students. Asian J Psychiatr. Apr 2017;26:46-51. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  60. Sule AI, Titiloye MA, Arulogun OS. Knowledge, perception and experience of sexual entrapment among undergraduate students of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Gates Open Res. May 15, 2019;3:1466. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  61. Olaigbe TA, Fagbenro DA. Fighting female sexual harrasement in Nigerian tertiary institutions. J Int Coop Dev. May 17, 2021;4(1):103. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  62. Kanab M. UNILAG suspends official accused of sexual harassment. The Premium Times, Nigeria. URL: https:/​/www.​​news/​more-news/​546478-unilag-suspends-official-accused-of-sexual-harassment.​html [accessed 2023-11-30]
  63. Heywood W, Myers P, Powell A, Meikle G, Nguyen D. Report on the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault among university students in 2021. Social Research Center. 2022. URL: [accessed 2023-12-04]
  64. Erinosho SY, Femi-Oyewo MN, Oduwole EO. Sexual harassment on campus: a study in a Nigeria University. Agogo J Humanit. Feb 14, 2018;4:1-10. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef]
  65. Nurbayani S, Dede M, Widiawaty MA. Utilizing library repository for sexual harassment study in Indonesia: a systematic literature review. Heliyon. Aug 2022;8(8):e10194. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  66. Gundersen KK, Zaleski KL. Posting the story of your sexual assault online: a phenomenological study of the aftermath. Fem Media Stud. Jan 23, 2020;21(5):840-852. [CrossRef]
  67. Mitchell KJ, Ybarra ML, Korchmaros JD. Sexual harassment among adolescents of different sexual orientations and gender identities. Child Abuse Negl. Feb 2014;38(2):280-295. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  68. Mapayi BM, Oloniniyi IO, Oginni OA, Opara OJ, Olukokun KJ, Harrison A, et al. Stifled screams: experiences of survivors of sexual harassment in first-generation universities in Southwestern Nigeria. Soc Sci. Jul 10, 2023;12(7):401. [CrossRef]
  69. Ibrahim AA, Haruna A. The psycho-social aspect of indecent dressing: influence of gender, dress pattern and physical attractiveness on sexual harassment. IOSR J Res Humanit Soc Sci. 2014;19(3):14-19. [CrossRef]
  70. Chukwudi F, Gbakorun AA. Indecent dressing and sexual harassment among undergraduates of Nasarawa State University, Keffi. J Sociol Psychol Anthropol Pract. 2011;3(2):25-31. [FREE Full text]

FGD: focus group discussion
IDI: in-depth interview
KII: key informant interview
PHQ-4: Patient Health Questionnaire-4
PI: principal investigator
RA: research assistant
SBQ-R: Suicidal Behavior Questionnaire-Revised
SEQ: Sexual Experiences Questionnaire
SH: sexual harassment

Edited by A Mavragani; submitted 18.05.23; peer-reviewed by S Nurbayani, AD Aina-Pelemo; comments to author 17.10.23; revised version received 22.10.23; accepted 23.11.23; published 15.12.23.


©Boladale Mapayi, Ibidun Oloniniyi, Olakunle Oginni, Abigail Harrison. Originally published in JMIR Research Protocols (, 15.12.2023.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Research Protocols, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.