Critical Language Scholarship Program | Harassment and Sexual…
A CLS cohort crosses a street in Taiwan.

Harassment and Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is defined as any act of a sexual nature that is directed against another person without that person’s consent. It is a spectrum of behaviors that can include but is not limited to sexual harassment, stalking, cyber harassment and technological abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and rape. Sexual misconduct can be perpetrated by those a person is familiar with or by someone whom they have never met before. Sexual misconduct can happen in any culture and between peoples from the same or different communities.

The CLS Program seeks to decrease the risk of participants experiencing sexual misconduct while on program by providing pre-program training for all CLS participants and staff that clarifies the CLS Program’s definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence and the policies that staff follow in responding to reports of sexual misconduct. Additionally, CLS Program staff speak with participants before and during the program about health and safety considerations in their host community, including forms of misconduct that have been reported in CLS host communities. The Resident Director and host institute staff are available to assist participants throughout the summer and are trained in providing support to participants who have experienced sexual misconduct. It is important to note that even when all precautions are taken, sexual misconduct can occur while participants are abroad.

Sexual misconduct is never the fault of the victim. If a participant experiences sexual misconduct, the CLS Program will provide nonjudgemental support and will help to meet the participant’s needs to the best of the program’s ability.

CLS Sexual Harassment Policy

The CLS Program’s response to sexual misconduct is outlined in the CLS Sexual Harassment Policy, which can be found in the CLS Program Terms and Conditions. All participants are strongly encouraged to thoroughly review the Sexual Harassment Policy in full prior to the start of the program. 

Reporting Incidents of Sexual Misconduct 

If a participant experiences sexual misconduct, they are encouraged to inform CLS Program staff, such as the Resident Director or institute staff, who can be reached 24 hours a day. If a participant prefers to speak with a staff member based in the U.S., they are welcome to reach out to their Program Officer, Program Manager, or Director. CLS urges participants to report any instance of sexual misconduct as soon as possible after the incident has occurred. If a participant reports to CLS Program staff that they have experienced sexual misconduct on the CLS Program, or if CLS Program staff otherwise learn of an incident of sexual misconduct, CLS Program staff will provide immediate support and assistance, including access to professional medical care and counseling (online or on-site depending on availability) in accordance with the wishes of the participant.

CLS Program staff, including the Resident Director, host institute staff, and staff in Washington, D.C., are mandatory reporters. This means that program staff have a responsibility to report any and all incidents of sexual misconduct to their supervisor and to the U.S. Department of State. Participants should know that all reports or complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence are handled discreetly; however, individuals with a legitimate need to know will be informed in order for the CLS Program to respond to the incident effectively. Participants may wish to report incidents to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in country and/or to make use of U.S. government resources available to Americans overseas, such as the American Citizens Services desk at the U.S. Embassy. CLS staff can assist in this process, if requested to do so.

Participants may also choose to access resources through their ASPE health benefits. ASPE Assist is a 24-hour crisis support hotline that participants can access while overseas. The professional staff who respond to calls are trained to assist individuals abroad experiencing serious situations such as sexual harassment and violence and mental health crises. Contact information for ASPE Assist is provided to CLS finalists during pre-program orientation.

Participants may also access the following confidential resources, which are independent of the CLS Program and will not share participant information with CLS staff or the U.S. Department of State:

The CLS Program strongly advises participants to contact the Resident Director before reporting incidents of sexual misconduct to law enforcement in the host country/location. The Resident Director can connect participants with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, if necessary. It is important to consider local laws and procedures before making a decision to report incidents of harassment or assault to local police. Local laws, investigatory procedures, and courtroom rules governing such cases may differ significantly from those of the U.S. and in some cases may compound the victim’s trauma. Certain incidents, if considered a criminal case, may require the victim to testify at a point in time after the CLS Program has completed. Attitudes toward sexual misconduct also vary considerably. In some cases, local police may not be supportive of a victim reporting sexual misconduct. Depending on host country laws, the reporting of sexual harassment or assault may even be considered an admission of guilt on the part of the victim.

Street Harassment

Street harassment is a prevalent issue in many CLS host communities, and participants should be aware that they may experience street harassment while abroad. Forms of harassment may include catcalling, whistling, making comments of a sexual nature, sexual contact or groping, pursuing someone on the street, and/or other behaviors. Harassers may comment on actual or perceived aspects of the victim’s identity, such as their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Experiencing street harassment anywhere can be frightening and upsetting, but can feel particularly disorienting in an unfamiliar environment.

If a participant experiences street harassment, they should remember that the Resident Director, local program staff, and the staff at American Councils are available to help support them. If a participant has an experience that makes them feel uncomfortable, threatened, or violated, they are urged to discuss it with their Resident Director, Program Officer, host institute staff and/or to reach out to the confidential support resources listed above. Some past participants have reported that talking about their experiences with other members of their cohort can be helpful.

No Retaliation

As stated in the Sexual Harassment Policy, the CLS Program prohibits retaliation against program participants and other members of the CLS community for filing a complaint of discrimination or harassment. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, threats, intimidation, coercion, and adverse actions in relation to evaluation or program participation. The CLS Program will investigate allegations of retaliation and will take strong responsive action if retaliation occurs; in the case of retaliation engaged in by participants, such behavior will result in discipline up to and including immediate dismissal from the CLS Program.

Unwanted Attention 

While abroad, it is possible that a participant may experience behavior that is concerning, uncomfortable, upsetting, or strange but that may not immediately or easily be defined as harassment. Participants are encouraged to report and discuss with CLS staff any behavior that is unwanted. Program staff seek to support students in unpacking and understanding such situations and can help to strategize responses to similar behavior should it happen again.