Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sue Scheff: Sexual Harassment by Connect with Kids

“Guys grab my butt… it happens all the time.”

– Louisa, 15 years old

Talk to girls in high schools across the country, and you‘ll hear similar stories about being inappropriately touched in the hallways.

“One of my friends, I mean every single day like guys would hit her butt,” says 14-year-old Jordan.

“Like guys grab my butt, and I just turn around and ‘stop’” adds 15-year-old Louisa.

Apparently there’s a lot of sexual touching and talking going on in school hallways. A new study from U-C Santa Cruz finds that 90 percent of girls report experiencing sexual harassment, including demeaning comments, unwanted attention and physical contact.

But many kids are having trouble with deciding when and how to say no.

“Sometimes you like it when it happens, but sometimes you get confused like should, is this wrong or is this right?” says 12-year-old Zahra.

Experts on the issue suggest the problem is that when it comes to sexual harassment, like other things in a child’s life, they still struggle to separate fantasy from reality.

“They have to differentiate when is it o-k to behave like that, like the movies show, and when is it not o-k. We didn’t have to make that distinction as kids. We knew it was inappropriate,” says counselor Denise Poe.

In and effort to clarify that kind of confusion, expert say both girls and boys should be taught to listen to their own intuition. If a conversation or physical advance feels wrong, it probably is. Kids should understand clearly, that when that happens, it’s not only o-k, but absolutely necessary to say “stop.”

“Let kids know that these behaviors are wrong, that they are harmful, and to let them know what to do if they are faced with that situation. Because maybe dad is telling them boys will be boys and they’re getting other messages from their friends from their family, and we want to tell them no, this will not be tolerated,” says Poe.

Tips for Parents

Sexual harassment in schools is defined as any unwanted, uninvited sexual attention. It may involve remarks, gestures, or actions of a sexual nature that make a person feel unsafe or uncomfortable and that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment.

This means that a student is being sexually harassed when someone imposes unwanted and uninvited sexual attention on them. It can occur between people of the same gender, or people of different genders. Sexual harassment can include saying sexual things, making sexual jokes, making sexual gestures, and touching someone in a sexual way.

Here are some examples of student-to-student sexual harassment. To be considered sexual harassment, these behaviors must be unwelcome by the victim.

unwanted, unwelcome physical contact like touching, grabbing or patting;
demeaning nicknames like "chick," "sexy," "stud," or "babe;"
homophobic name calling like "fag", "dyke", "lezzie" or "queer"
cat calls, rating or embarrassing whistles;
insulting remarks about sexual orientation;
sexually insulting remarks about race, gender, ability or class;
bragging about sexual prowess for others to hear;
intimidating hallway behavior;
names written on walls or desks -"for a good time, call ;"
stalking (i.e., following someone)
It is not:

hug between friends;
mutual flirtation.
Although primarily considered an issue affecting adult women in the workplace, there is increasing evidence that student-to-student sexual harassment is growing more prevalent in scholastic environs. Studies have shown that up to 90 percent of the girls and 76 percent of the boys have experienced sexual harassment.

Surveys have also found:

although both girls and boys experience sexual harassment at alarming rates, sexual harassment takes a greater toll on girls
girls who have been harassed are more afraid in school and feel less confident about themselves than boys who have been harassed
sexual harassment in school begins early;
students are harassed by boys and girls;
girls of all races experience more sexual harassment than do boys

According to the U. S. Department of Education, “Sexual harassment can occur at any school activity and can take place in classrooms, halls, cafeterias, dormitories and other areas. Too often, the behavior is allowed to continue simply because students and employees are not informed about what sexual harassment is or how to stop it. Students, parents and school staff must be able to recognize sexual harassment, and understand what they can do to prevent it from occurring and how to stop it if it does occur.

Harassing behavior, if ignored or not reported, is likely to continue and become worse, rather than go away. The impact of sexual harassment on a student's educational progress and attainment of future goals can be significant and should not be underestimated. As a result of sexual harassment, a student may, for example, have trouble learning, drop a class or drop out of school altogether, lose trust in school officials, become isolated, fear for personal safety, or lose self-esteem.

For these reasons, a school should not accept, tolerate or overlook sexual harassment. A school should not excuse the harassment with an attitude of "that's just emerging adolescent sexuality" or "boys will be boys," or ignore it for fear of damaging a professor's reputation. This does nothing to stop the sexual harassment and can even send a message that such conduct is accepted or tolerated by the school. When a school makes it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, trains its staff, and appropriately responds when harassment occurs, students will see the school as a safe place where everyone can learn.”

Sexual harassment involves situations in which the person doing the behavior has more power than the person experiencing the behavior. This means that it can be very difficult for students to solve these problems on their own. Tell your parents or a teacher about the problems you are experiencing.

Here are some things you can do:

It is the responsibility of your school to make the school safe for you. Only do the things recommended below if you are comfortable doing them. If you are not comfortable, then get help from a teacher or counselor.
Be assertive.
Write the harasser a letter.
Document Incidents.
Check with other students.
File a formal complaint.
University of California- Santa Cruz
LaMarsh Research Centre: Information And Advice on Student-to-Student Sexual Harassment -
U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights: Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic
Hostile Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in America's Schools -
Too Many Teens Suffer Sexual Harassment

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