This is the first in a multi-week series on the topics of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The series is designed to provide you – parents and caregivers of middle school and high school girls — education, information, and most importantly doable actions you can take to empower yourself and your daughter.
We will be covering topics including sexual harassment in the school environment, practical actions you can take to help, how to speak with your daughter in a way that is supportive, empowering, and opens communication. We will also address the role of culture and the media in sexual violence, how you can become an everyday activist, how to inspire a gutsy bystander, personal stories from teen girls, and more.
You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge so please join us in this important series and share it with parents, teachers, caregivers, and all those that want to support young people in an empowering and positive way.
Sexual assault committed against boys is an underreported and often ignored problem. Given our project is directed at inspiring and empowering girls, they will be the focus of our series. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge and not minimize violence against boys. As relevant and available, we will provide resources for boys too.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please remember that this blog series is not meant to replace professional support for you or any individual. If you have any concerns whatsoever about your welfare and safety or that of anyone around you, please seek medical or other professional help immediately.
The Facts and What You Can Do about Sexual Harassment in
Your Daughter’s School
“We learned pretty quickly to stay away from that particular stairwell.”
As we sat with a group of six female high school students from an affluent community, they shared their freshman year experiences with us, “10 or so senior boys would line up at the stair balcony during class changes – calling girl’s names, trying to look down their shirts, and even spitting on some girls – which was disgusting.”
Although school administrators were aware of the problem and sometimes even went to the area where it occurred, nothing changed. “A teacher might just tell them to quiet down, but that was it.”
“It was scary and intimidating…We just did our best to avoid going to classes that way.”
Some facts on Sexual Harassment
The research confirms what these young women told us during that recent What’s Your Brave interview circle. According to studies[i], sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools and is experienced by almost half of students. (More girls than boys, but boys account for 40% of that number. Non-gender conforming adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harassment).
Examples of harassment include:
- Verbal harassment (unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures) make up a majority of the incidents.
- Disturbingly though, physical harassment also happens regularly – touching girls’ breasts, a boy rubbing his penis against a girl’s buttocks, etc.
- Hallway “gauntlets” similar to the one articulated above
- Sexual harassment by text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means such as using derogatory language to spread a sexual rumor about a girl.
Perhaps, like many of us, you think this is not something that would happen in your local school. Unfortunately, no particular demographic makes your school or town exempt. As just one example, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) recently conducted surveys in a cross-section of schools including middle class, at-risk, affluent and academically high-performing. All cities and towns reported similar incidents.
This harmful environment takes a toll on girls – in particular – resulting in increased absenteeism, trouble sleeping and decreased productivity and academic performance. As Melissa articulated, it also gives the girls a clear message that has a ripple effect on their lives in general – “There is no place for me. I have no say over my body. I do not have power over my life.”
As parents, it is hard not to feel helpless…or if we are honest, ready to take someone down, when reading these statistics and hearing first-hand accounts of the realities of daily school life for many young women. But before you get in your car to drive to your daughter’s school, take a breath, because there is some good news and you can help.
Change is Possible
That’s right. There is hope and a significant amount of it too. There are many experts and professionals working hard to change this culture. For example, Nan Stein, a well-regarded researcher in this area for preteens and teens, has developed programs that are proving to be effective in significantly decreasing sexual harassment and violence in our schools.
Building safety practices provide the biggest positive impact: temporary school-based stay-away orders, assignment of school faculty and safety personal to monitor unsafe areas, and the use of posters for education. In conjunction with building safety, a classroom curriculum adds to the reduction of sexual harassment and violence. Topics covered in the classroom emphasize consequences to the harasser, communicating boundaries, and the role of the bystander.[ii]
And most importantly, students have suggestions too – allowing them to anonymously report a problem was at the top of their list. Also high on teens’ lists are enforcing policies and punishing harassers.[iii]
What really struck us about these solutions is how much adults can impact the culture, and further how uncomplicated they are to implement and enforce.
Parents Need to Be Part of Solution
As parents, we can step up to create a tipping point. (A tipping point is the point at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents reaches a level that triggers a more significant change – the cultural shift on smoking in public is one good example.)
Isn’t it time to stop suggesting that our daughters find another hallway to get to class?
If you’re in, let’s get started. Take just a few minutes to complete one or both of the Take 5 actions below.
Next week: Talking to Your Teen about Sexual Harassment, Assault, and Rape
Melissa Gopnik is the Managing Director for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. We enlisted Melissa’s help because as part of her work she is involved in developing and delivering new training curriculums on preventing sexual violence. She is the mother of a 9 year old girl.
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s (www.barcc.org) mission is to end sexual violence through healing and social change. Founded in 1973, it is a national leader in providing high quality services to survivors and innovative prevention programs in the community. It is a part of a national network of rape crisis centers that you can support in your local community.
In addition to Melissa, we will be gaining input from other experts in the field including: Miranda Horvath @miranda_horvath and Amy Jussel @shapingyouth. Thank you Miranda and Amy for your work and expertise!
About What’s Your Brave: Paula Grieco is a writer and entrepreneur. Liz McHutcheon is an artist and small business coach. Together we founded, What’s Your Brave, a writing and media project dedicated to supporting teen girls in being brave, dreaming big, and taking positive bold action. Our new book, Take 5 for Your Dreams, is created especially for teen girls and provides inspiration and doable steps so they can live their biggest, boldest dreams starting now. You can follow What’s Your Brave on Twitter or Like us on Facebook.
(i) Adolescents’ Experiences of Sexual Assault by Peers: Prevalence and Nature of Victimization Occurring Within and Outside of School. Amy M. Young Æ Melissa Grey Æ Carol J. Boyd 2009.
(ii) Taylor and Stein research on Shifting Boundaries, 2008-2010
(iii) AAUW on Crossing the Line, 2009