Undergraduate Study Abroad

Sexual Harassment & Assault

Sexual harassment is a particularly difficult area because of the extreme variance in acceptable behavior between cultures.

Cultural difference in interactions on romantic or sexual levels can be a problem area: some behaviors might be very inappropriate in the U.S., but considered perfectly acceptable in the culture in which you are living, and vice-versa. Some of the new behaviors will be relatively easy to adjust to, but others pose more of a problem. Sexual harassment is a particularly difficult area because of the extreme variance in acceptable behavior between cultures. Combined with the different social and legal responses to such behavior, sexual harassment when abroad can be a difficult scenario to deal with; fortunately there are ways to prevent or lessen the negative consequences.

Verbal and Non-verbal Clues

In the United States many people believe that it is possible for a non-sexual relationship (i.e. friendship, companionship) to exist between men and women. However in many other cultures this belief can be just the opposite; stated simply it is difficult or impossible for non-sexual relationships to exist between men and women. Until one is fully aware of the cultural norms combined with the verbal and non-verbal clues that he or she is sending, one must be very mindful of the emotions and expectations that are evolving. In our society it is not uncommon to rebuff an unwanted sexual encounter by saying, “I’m seeing someone,” or “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” While the contextual clues for that type of statement are generally understood in the U.S. to mean, “Leave me alone" or "I’m not interested,” in another cultural context it might actually be understood as an encouraging response rather than a signal of discouragement. Clear, direct, and unambiguous responses may be difficult for many Americans to deliver, but these strong responses are crucial for clear understanding in a cross-cultural situation. “I do not want to go out with you, please do not ask me again” is a much more direct and stronger way of expressing your true thoughts about the situation.


Informal resolution of your sexual harassment problem may be possible. You are encouraged to contact the appropriate person on your host campus/program to report any behaviors that you feel are sexually harassing. They should be able to assist you in sorting out the situation in a culturally appropriate way. If these campus/program representatives are unable or unwilling to assist you, please contact SAA, and we will assist you in this matter.

In addition, students who have experienced interpersonal violence, sexual assault/harassment, or stalking may seek confidential advocacy and support from Brown’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response advocates at 401-863-6000. They may also seek information about their resource and reporting options from the Brown University Title IX Office at 401-863-2386.


Brown University policy prohibits Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, Sexual Assault, Sexual Exploitation, Relationship and Interpersonal Violence, Provision of Alcohol and/or Other Drugs for Purposes of Prohibited Conduct, and Stalking (together, “Prohibited Conduct”), whether on-campus or off-campus. Students studying abroad through Brown University are covered under this policy and the procedures it provides.
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While you are abroad take the same precautions you would take in any large U.S. city you are not familiar with.