Skip to Main Content

Sexual Misconduct: Policies to Improve Institutional Accountability and Reduce Individual Burdens

Journal Title Nonprofit Policy Forum
Published Date August 09, 2022
Research Type


Sexual misconduct is prevalent across sectors. Recent nationwide awareness and responses to sexual misconduct cases led to the “Me Too” movement, and allegations continue, including in nonprofit education and practice (Battaglio, Goodman, and Sabharwal 2018; Beaton, LePere-Schloop, and Smith. 2021b; Gibelman and Gelman 2002; Lamothe et al. 2022; LePere-Schloop and Beaton 2022; Sutton et al. 2022; Wood et al. 2021; Young and Wiley 2021). In higher education, 50–90% of college-level + female students are reported to have experienced sexual misconduct (Wood et al. 2021). Yet, sexual misconduct in academic settings is seldom publicized or reported despite legal protections such as Title IX. When it comes to faculty perpetrators, the unique power relations between faculty and students may discourage affected students from making formal complaints. In addition, the combination of lack of trust in institutional responses to such cases, fear of retaliation, the potential for losing financial and referential support, and rejection from colleagues inhibit survivors from seeking their legal rights (Cruz 2021).

Institutional investigations often do not bring significant consequences to faculty perpetrators (Cruz 2021; Meyers 2004). Also, such cases place undue burdens on affected students and whistle-blowers. They focus more on whether administrative actions have been taken, rather than the effectiveness of actions in deterring future misconduct and/or justice for those harmed. Recently, media reports exposed decades of sexual misconduct by a senior faculty member in public affairs education who targeted primarily international graduate students, which prompted wide condemnation in academia. The Korean Nonprofit and Philanthropy Researchers Network (KNPRN)1 responded to the scandal, forming the Professional Ethics Committee (PEC) in March of 2021. The PEC organized a colloquium session on sexual misconduct at the 2021 ARNOVA annual conference. The colloquium addressed sexual misconduct present in and around the nonprofit service and education fields and provided suggestions to protect affected individuals and improve institutional accountability. The session focused on three topics: 1) situational diagnosis, 2) identification of causes, and 3) potential courses of action.

While the salience of sexual misconduct in the workplace has long been apparent, we note that only a small body of nonprofit research tackles this issue (Beaton et al. 2021). Therefore, this commentary attempts to solicit nonprofit scholarly attention by extending our discussion during the colloquium regarding how to promote institutional accountability and establish a safe workplace for all. The following sections provide a brief overview of research on sexual misconduct in the nonprofit sector, a summary of the colloquium discussion, and suggested directions for resolution.

Lamothe, M., LePere-Schloop, M., Lim, S., Yeo, J., Beaton, E. E., Brower, R., ... & Yoo, E. (2022). Sexual Misconduct: Policies to Improve Institutional Accountability and Reduce Individual Burdens. Nonprofit Policy Forum, 13(4), 361-370.