“Speak Up!”: A practice-oriented research project on the prevention of Sexual Harassment (SUSH)

Project: Research

Project Details


Aim and research questions
The aim of SUSH is to focus on methods of preventing SH in ways that include gendered assumptions and intersectionality in SH as a phenomenon, and in relation to its prevention. The interventions target bystanders’ (employees, managers, union and safety representatives) understanding of SH and their behaviour in SH situations.

By employing prominent proximal main interventions, SUSH targets prevention of SH in general yet focus on two of the three main dimensions of SH, gender harassment and unwanted sexual attention, as research shows they are most prevalent (Fitzgerald & Cortina, 2018). Especially relevant work organizations and working life partners are participating in order to adapt and test the effect of the SUSH interventions.

The SUSH interventions are built on two innovative perspectives. First, the ecological perspective (the interconnectedness of all levels and parts of an organization) (Bond 1995), and second, theory on intersectionality (the interconnectedness of gender, ethnicity, and other power relations) (Crenshaw 1993). Thus, SUSH moves SH prevention beyond the “typical heterosexual man harassing white woman scenario portrayed in most organizational training” (Danna et al., 2020, p. 211).

Main aim: To develop and test the effect of theory and research-based bystander SH interventions (SUSH). Sub aims are to:

1.Adapt, develop, and evaluate the results from a bystander SH intervention based on (I) the empirically tested prevention program “Green Dot”, by Edwards (2009), originally designed to reduce risk of perpetration of sexual and dating violence at campus (Cook-Craig et al., 2014), as well as the (II) Prevention Program developed by McDonald, Charlesworth & Graham (2015) and AHRC 2021 for the Australian Human Rights Commission)
2.Adapt, elaborate, and test the effect of a bystander SH intervention based on the well-known and tested “Intervene” prevention program (Mikkelsen, 2020).

Research questions are:

1.What are the vital components and risks associated with implementing an intervention for SH that aims at increasing constructive bystander action in SH situations at work?
2.What are the perceived effects of SUSH interventions (i.e., knowledge, attitudes, and actions)?

The settings and research design
SUSH builds on the assumption that active-constructive bystander intervention will contribute to prevent SH behaviours. In the following, the project parts and SUSH interventions included are described:

The Danish pilot is based on the intervention “Intervene-SH” which is a dialogue-based, user-friendly standardized intervention that organizations may employ themselves . The intervention employs vignettes that portray real life situations, characters, and dynamics, which are easy to identify with. The intervention’s structure is based on the original Danish theory- and research-based intervention “Intervene” which has proven effective in increasing awareness of constructive bystander behaviour and of risk situations for bullying (Mikkelsen & Høgh, 2019). In detail, across 18 months, the effect of Intervene-SH will be measured by conducting baseline (T1), and follow-up interviews with employees and managers in the participating organization. At T1, months 1-6, baseline group interviews will be conducted followed by “Intervene-SH” implementation. At T2, months 7-12, follow-up group interviews with participants and managers are conducted. At T3, months 13-18, the qualitative data are analysed. The intervention will be refined based on these data and the findings from the Swedish and Norwegian projects, which include in-depth investigation of experiences with previous SH prevention programs and exploring and discussing cultural adaptability of SH interventions, respectively. The Danish part will be conducted in close cooperation with working life partner BFA Velfærd og Offentlig Administration, and will be included in an ongoing PhD project on SH.

The Swedish pilot will be based on the main principles for bystander interventions from various prevention programs, e.g., the “Green Dot” (Edwards, 2009), and the Australian Prevention Program (AHRC, 2021; McDonald et al., 2015). The Green Dot program has been empirically tested and show an effect (Coker et al., 2011; Cook-Craig et al., 2014). At T1, The various programs will be used in discussions with the working life partner (two trade unions from the Swedish Confederation of Professional employees, (TCO), including their gender equality representatives, about previous experiences of SH prevention programs (TCO 2013, 2018). At T2, seminars introducing the basic principles for bystander interventions will be introduced. Then local action projects based on these principles will be planned and developed in close cooperation with the working life partner. At T3, follow up-seminars will discuss and evaluate the progress of the project work. The Swedish pilot will employ findings from the Norwegian and Danish projects, including discussing issues of cultural adaptability of “Intervene-SH”. If possible, as some of the programs are licensed (e.g., Green Dot), additional funding will be sought to provide professional translation of the adapted versions. Master students in social work at the University of Gothenburg will be invited to do thesis work related to the pilot.

The Norwegian pilot is conducted in close collaboration with key persons involved in the ongoing work (Bjørkelo, 2020; Ellingsen & Lilleaas, 2020) by the National Police Directorate, and the Norwegian Police University College (NPUC), of preventing and intervening to impact the occurrence of SH in the Norwegian Police Service (NPS). The pilot will (1) compile documentation on existing efforts on prevention and intervention of SH in the NPS and at the NPUC, and (2) start to culturally adapt the Danish bystander intervention ”Intervene-SH” with a focus on the characteristics of the involved persons (e.g., intersectionality) and the organisation (police). Across 18 months, existing NPS data giving evidence on existing SH prevention and intervention efforts and their effects, will first be evaluated. Then, a process of adapting and elaborating existing SH interventions will start based on (a) input from the “Intervene-SH” program to ensure a focus on bystanders, and (b) input from with the Swedish pilot to ensure focus on intersectionality. The latter includes discussions about cultural adaptability. Key persons from the working life partner are involved, and additional funding will be sought to provide a professional translation of the Danish “Intervene-SH” into Norwegian. Students at the NPUC will be invited to do academic work related to the pilot, and additional funding for a PhD in order to test the intervention, which will be an integral part of the prospective long-term project.

Results and effects
The SUSH interventions will yield valuable findings on SH prevention across three Nordic countries including especially relevant work organizations and working life partners, as well as these partners’ employees, managers, and employee representatives. As such, SUSH will result in directly relevant changes in settings and practices (bystander behaviour), which is expected to have an impact on SH (e.g., prevalence, attitudes, and behaviours) in the organizations involved.

First, SUSH interventions will be developed based on an already compiled literature review on the SH prevention literature (Hedin & Lane, forthcoming), existing relevant research projects that are known (Brottsoffer fonden, Sexuella trakasserier inom polisen, Wieslander, 2021-2024), as well as theoretical- and research-based intervention programs. The anticipated result is low risk and high gain for starting to adapt the core structure and materials for the SUSH interventions. The assumed direct effects of the implemented SUSH interventions are increased awareness of negative consequences of passive or colluding bystander behaviours, risk situations for SH as well as an increase in constructive bystander behaviour among participants.

•To increase the likelihood of success, SUSH interventions are based on the current status of initiatives and ongoing processes in especially relevant work organizations in close collaboration with working life partners across three Nordic settings (Norway, Sweden and Denmark).

The test of results and effect of the SUSH interventions is based on the completion of the abovementioned three pilots. As evaluation includes the involvement of several actors (employees, managers, and employee representatives), risks as well as gains are high. However, as SUSH is based on the main components of empirically tested and effective interventions, there is high probability of SUSH being able to start to enable the structure of an anticipated evaluation study during the timeframe (18 months).

The long-term effect of SUSH is providing SH interventions that are low in supply and often not theory- and research-based. SUSH is a pilot and the start of developing larger-scale empirical tests studies of the SUSH interventions in the prospective long-term project.

•To increase the likelihood of success, SUSH project members will plan the process of applying for additional external funding for the long-term project from relevant sources (NordForsk, Norges forskningsråd, Danmarks Frie Forskningsfond, Vetenskapsrådet, Horizon Europe).
•SUSH will also apply for other external and internal funding (e.g., SDU, UoG, and NPUC) for professionally translating the SUSH interventions and for project meetings and other relevant resources to support the aims set in the pilot period.

The prospective long-term project, depending on additional external funding after the SUSH pilot, will involve conducting a larger-scale mixed-method empirical test of the SUSH interventions. That is, to test the impact over time using inventories that measure bystander attitudes and behaviour pre and post SUSH interventions. Few if none of such inventories currently exist. In addition, the long-term project includes making new short films (or translating existing films – see for example https://bfa-service.dk/sexchikane) that take into consideration factors such as culture, intersectionality and organisational setting), with the purpose of making them available in Nordic countries free of charge.
Workplace actors:
The SUSH working life partners are BFA Velfærd & Off. Adm (Lise Keller, psychologist and project manager), the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO, Ulrika Hagström, Responsible for Work Environment Issues), and the Norwegian Police University College, Norway (Sissel Nordby Hvenekilde, leader of the diversity committee),

Reference group:
The SUSH reference group assists the project with prominent academic and practice-oriented knowledge. The members are: Maj Hansen, associate professor at SDU, Anette Borchorst, professor at Aalborg University, Tine Holmegaard, consultant, Jan Lorentzen, senior advisor in DI, Sven-Axel Månsson, professor emeritus, Malmö University, Docent Birgitta Jordansson, Göteborgs universitet, Lektor Ninni Carlsson, PhD o. forskare, Göteborgs Universitet, Malin Wieslander, Senior Lecturer, Linköping University, Hege Høivik Bye, associate professor, University of Bergen, Camilla Vedi, Senior Advisor HR/HSE, Organisational psychologist, National Police Directorate, and Kathrine Berg, Head of Personnel/HR, Norwegian Police University College.

Short titleSpeak up!
Effective start/end date16/05/202231/10/2023