According to a New York Times article (May 1, 2008) “More than a third of middle- and high-school students may be victims of sexual harassment by their classmates…The emotional toll of sexual harassment by school kids appears to be even worse than physical bullying… “It happens in gym, on the school bus and when kids change classes,” said Susan Fineran, associate professor in the school of social work and women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. “And it’s who you’re sitting next to, who’s sitting behind you and in front of you.” To study the issue, Dr. Fineran and coauthor James Gruber from the University of Michigan in Dearborn surveyed 522 children between the ages of 11 and 18 about their experiences with bullying and sexual harassment at school. Overall, 35 percent of kids reported they had been victims of some form of sexual harassment. Boys and girls reported equal levels of harassment, but girls and sexual minorities were far more upset by it, suffering from lower self-esteem, poorer mental and physical health, and more trauma symptoms. Sexual harassment by classmates can be both physical and verbal. Walking through school hallways or in classrooms, girls said they must fend off boys reaching out and squeezing their breasts or grabbing their crotch or bottom. But girls also verbally harass each other, making lewd comments and writing sexually-charged allegations on Web pages or in text messages.”
I choose this topic because today I suspended two students for just such behavior. I only found out about the behavior because the victim was brave enough to report it to the counselor who in turn reported it to me. As I told the two harassers, such behavior is illegal and will not be tolerated. I explained to the harassers that “No means no!” And even if the other party does not overtly object or tell you to stop, the offender needs to know that it is still objectively wrong in the eyes of civil society and the law.
Parents can help us end sexual harassment by talking to your child about it. If your child has been a victim, help them to come forward and report this to me or another school staff member. Once we have identified the harasser, we can discipline accordingly. Parents can also educate their child about why harassment is wrong and what they can do to stop it. While I do not believe it is a widespread event at Taylor, I do want to do everything in the school’s power to end it. Your help in this is greatly appreciated.