By Kristen Houghton
Sexual Harassment in Schools
As part of a school lecture I was going to give, I interviewed 4 teachers and 8 female students about sexual harassment. During the interview with the teachers I asked them to detail the changes made in the last ten years in reporting incidences of harassment.
The teachers were all in their forties, two men and two women. While all agreed that the opportunity to report harassment was definitely more accessible, with schools in their areas now required to have a sexual harassment officer on premises for a specified number of school hours, they still felt that most incidences of harassment went unreported.
“Whether we like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to reporting this form of harassment,” said one of the women. All shook their heads in agreement and one of the men mentioned that his own twelve year old daughter had refused to mention an inappropriate touch from a male student. When he and his wife asked her why she didn’t report this boy, who had a habit of harassing her during gym class, she tearfully responded that other kids, especially his friends, would tease her unmercifully if she did.
Interviewing the students I found that “telling” wasn’t all that different from my own school years.
A senior girl, who had been teased about her mature body from sixth grade through high school, said that it was too embarrassing to have to go and tell someone that she was being harassed because she would just have to relive the experience. She felt that, difficult as it was, it was better to try to ignore it as best she could.
The girls, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, mentioned having “unwanted comments” made, not only by male students, but by male teachers. They hesitated to report the teachers because they knew the teachers would not only deny it but might also take it out on them grade-wise. And inappropriate touching by boys in crowded hallways was a problem that the girls felt was difficult to deal with simply because it couldn’t be proven. One girl said,
“When I told my principal that some boy had grabbed me in the halls, he asked me if I was sure. I said yes. But when the boy was brought in, he said I was crazy, that the halls were so crowded, he “accidentally” touched me. The principal told him to be extra careful then told me I shouldn’t say someone did something unless I had a witness. He made it seem that I was wrong, but believe me, what that boy did was no “accidental” touch; he grabbed me.”
It is unfortunate that with all the advances made in the educational arena for girls there is still the stigma attached to reporting sexual harassment but there are ways we as parents can help protect our daughters.
If your child’s school has a sexual harassment officer make sure she or he has had the proper training. It is not beneficial to have someone who has the title without the training.
Tell your child that if their gut reaction is that someone touched them improperly, they should tell a teacher and ask to call their parent or guardian immediately.
If your child is going to meet with the officer or principal, go with them. It is your child’s right to have you there. They are minors and by law, a parent’s attendance is required.
Go to parent-teacher meetings and request that your school have programs and assemblies with appropriate speakers designed to address this problem. Insist on the school’s administration participation in these programs.
Above all, let your child know that in telling you they are exercising their right to freedom from harassment and tell them you stand behind them all the way. Let them know that girls shouldn’t be afraid to “tell” and that no has the right to harass them sexually.
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