Sexual Harassment in School
While standing at the water cooler a lady is groped by a coworker as he passes by. Another is propositioned for a lunch break rendezvous while she is busy at her desk. A gentleman who has just finished working out hears a whistle and a call to “shake it.” However, that water cooler is really a water fountain in the middle of a crowded high school, the desk sits in the middle of a classroom, and that gym is actually a high school locker room. The aggressors aren’t coworkers or bosses looking for some extra perks. They are classmates. Furthermore, it’s not just kids teasing around with one another. It is sexual harassment and it happens every day of the school year.
I will be one of the first to tell you that as a society we have become way too sensitive for our own good. It’s as if we’re afraid to say or do anything because it may hurt somebody’s feelings and then all hell will break loose. I find political correctness offensive as well as childish. However, since we are talking about children, it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously.
I’m not so old that I don’t remember what it was like in school. The comments were crude and suggestive when they weren’t just downright blunt, and it wasn’t just the guys screaming at the girls. The girls did their fair share of comments and propositions, as well. Not all, of course, but enough. I have even had girls tell me how some guys just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Girls lost their virginity because boys took what wasn’t theirs, because they simply didn’t care about anything but their crotch. What may have started as simple flirtation at first became a roller coaster of tragedy.
One of the surveys I came across stated that 85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys in high school had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Thirty-nine percent of girls reported being harassed at school on a daily basis throughout the year and four percent of girls said they were sexually harassed by a staff member. Like bullying, this is a major problem.
Now as I said before I think people can be oversensitive, so we should make some distinctions. Flirting and sexual harassment is not the same thing. Flirting is part of the courting game. It is done between people to discover if the other person is interested. It is light and not crude, polite and not graphic. If the person shows interest and flirts back, then the courting dance has begun. However, it becomes sexual harassment when the other person shows no interest and yet it is not stopped. Sexual harassment in its basic definition is any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature.
Some other differences are while flirting is flattering, sexual harassment is demeaning. Flirting is two-sided; harassment is one-sided. One is based on attraction while the other is driven by power. Flirting feels good and can be fun. Sexual harassment does not feel good and is anything but fun. It is a crime.
Sexual harassment is a danger and poses both physical and emotional problems for the victims. A student who fears going to school because they know that harassment is sure to follow will suffer many stress related ailments such as weight loss or gain; nausea, headaches and/or stomach aches, problems sleeping and if not remedied could lead to alcohol and drug abuse. Some of the emotional effects may include irritability, depression, fear, shame, guilt and mood swings. The victim can, over time, begin to feel powerless, intimidated, degraded and soon loses trust in others. If the harassment continues there could be a drop in the quality of school work which leads to lower grades, tardiness, skipping classes or school to avoid the offender, and they can go to the extreme of switching schools to even dropping out altogether. No one wants to continuously be in an environment where they are afraid all of the time.
Adults need to be firm on their stance against sexual harassment. The excuse “boys will be boys” is not a legitimate excuse, nor is blaming the girl’s attire, saying, “She was asking for it. Look how she was dressed.” Each person is held responsible for their actions. Schools have grown firm on this issue and are doing their best to educate the victim as well as the offender. The repercussions are severe and should be and parents need to be on the lookout for symptoms that something is going on. We don’t want to believe it could happen to our child, or worse, that our child could be the offender. Yet, we need to be observant and ask questions with a sensitive heart.
Sexual harassment is a serious crime that can go unchecked. Schools must be proactive and creative as they educate students of its severity. They also must be compassionate to the victims and firm to the offenders. A “No Tolerance” policy must be had. If students see that the adults take the issue of sexual harassment seriously, they will take it the same way. And it is serious.
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