A new report finds that nearly half of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in school in the last year. We discuss teen sexual harassment and efforts to combat it.

Teen Sexual Harassment 8 November,2011forum

Holly Kearl, co-author of the report "Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at Schools" by the American Association of University Women, and author of "Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women"
Rhonda James, executive director of Community Violence Solutions, an agency dedicated to ending sexual assault and family violence through prevention, crisis services and treatment
Alexis Marbach, public policy advocate with the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Jack Schmidt, prevention educator with Community Violence Solutions

  • Tiggeroo02

    Not knowing who and how many will do what when.

    Harassment is an assault.

    The wounds are not apparent but take longer to heal than physical assaults.

  • Susan

    Unfortunately, the US models bully-ing behavior. Rather than showing respect and following basic principles of kindness, don’t lie, steal or kill – the US (along with movies and TV) models – even celebrates – the worst of inconsiderate behavior.  It’s no wonder our kids also bully.  

    • Joe

      Nail on the head here.  Society idealizes sexist behavior and then we wonder why kids act that way.  “Fixing” this issue would involve a lot of adults “growing up” before demanding that children do so.  
      I sincerely doubt that will ever happen, and I assume that media creators know the same thing and see an opportunity to make money.

      • Socrates

        It’s worse outside the USA. I met a young man from the Balkans, from a country where sex slavery & trafficking of innocent girls from villages is common, and he was frank about his desire to grope women and to one day own and run a strip club. He was a computer professional. In the USA you only see that attitude among gang members and perhaps some East Coast minorities (think Jersey Shore).

    • utera

      Sorry but human development models this behavior.  People aren’t blank slates and folks who get behind such programs to sanitize human interaction are like those utopians of the past, the communists and other regimes who thought they could achieve human perfection through force and molding of the blank slate.  Kids bully and back bite each other because they are developing intelligence, social intelligence and working social dynamics.  There will always be comparing of whether X is better than me or Y, its why we aren’t friends with everyone regardless, people are making decisions and judgments and that is inevitable part of growing up.  “fixing ” this issue as you folks have put it only creates an even worse situation where like in former communist states you have people reporting each other behind their backs to gain advantage.  You will have a perverse situation where people will try to gain advantage by playing victim, a different way of bullying your way around.

      Any time you try to create a utopian ideal that is totally unnatural you will create perverse consequences.  This isn’t to say you allow a free for all, but part of growing up is learning to deal with conflict, trying to shield children past a certain degree only harms them.

  • Socrates

    Harassment takes many forms, not just sexual. In a society where people are separated from one another, it is both more likely that harassment will be perpetrated, and that non-harassing behaviors will be perceived as harassment. I know for a fact that in some socially conservative areas, for instance, merely looking at a stranger in the wrong way is deemed harassment — similar to what happens when a human looks at a monkey at the zoo, it’s considered provocation. The question to ask regarding the harassment issue is, as always, cui bono — who benefits from the assumption of guilt?

  • Rick from oakland

    I’m not trying to lessen the effect these victims suffer but my question is, what about the fact that this is rather a norm in youth, kids are jerks theyve been that way for decades, to me this is almost like the change of spousal abuse and spousal rape, something that has been prevalent for years becoming now unnacceptable.

  • Karenj245

    My daughter is a 5th grader and developing earlier than her peers. She’s been the object of verbal sexual harassment already. Do you have resources for younger grades. I really think my child’s school needs assistance and direction to respond more effectively. 

    By the way, this report doesn’t surprise me at all. When talking to my adult women friends after my daughter’s difficulties, every one recounted an incident of harassment, mostly in junior high schools.

    • Karenj245

      I meant, “do you have suggestions for resources for younger grades?”

  • nina

    Just watching sitcoms, reality shows, and other “family” shows at “family hours” on network television lame examples of sexualized humor, which young people may well emulate as they attempt to fit in and be socialized.  Where is media accountability and challenges of the linguistic and behavioral norms that are modeled and depicted there?  No wonder kids are getting mixed messages about “appropriate” jokes.

  • Socrates

    Religion is the biggest fount of bigotry that I know. If we don’t recognize that immensely obvious fact, we will be undermining all efforts to end sexual harassment.
    Beware socially conservative religionists who claim to be somehow protecting victims of unwanted advances, they are truly wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

  • Jason Winters

    It’s easy to paintthis issue in terms of needing more intervention and as a youth problem. In my mind, us “adults” want a very sexualized society–that is the only conclusion one can draw if you look at the worlds of entertainment and fashion. Porn is basically mainstream; the Victoria’s Secretization of fashion; the word “sexy” is synonymous with good, etc. If us adults can’t seem to prevent sexualization of everything from taking over our society, why do we expect youth to be any better? They are only following the examples we give them. In fact, the way we have set up expectations, they are acting like “adults” when they act sexual. If this is of serious concern to us, we need to change our fashion and entertainment habits, not just provide more counselors, although I’m sure that is needed as well.

  • Sammy

    I’m a third grade teacher (home sick today 🙂 and I have a non-gender normative boy in my class who has chosen to go by a girl’s name.  He has struggled enormously at home and at school.  My students and I have talked extensively about how we are all different in our own ways and some people’s differences are just more obvious.  Students have stepped up, saying, “I’ll play with him on the yard because I know he gets teased a lot.”  They really try to protect him.  And yet, they are also clearly repulsed by him on some level. This particular child also has an intellectual disability and is socially immature.  I am a queer woman who is very cognizant of gender issues and I don’t know how to support him beyond continuing to build my students empathy through role plays and modeling. Bullying and teasing are so very ingrained in our culture and we all need to be working much harder to confront sexualized and gender-based teasing from kindergarten up.

  • Michèle

     I want to let you know that the Unitarian Unversalist Church of Berkeley is offering a free public screening the film MISS REPRESENTATION on Nov 19. Miss Representation directly discusses how the portrayal of women in the media contributes to the abuse and bullying of both boys and girls. All are welcome. Reserve a seat at uucb.org

  • Linda Rugg

    I was sexually harassed (called a “lesbian” by classmates) when I was in eighth grade.  The harassment became so intense and pervasive that I was struggling to keep going to school.  I finally told my parents, and I was deeply disappointed in them.  They basically said that I needed to keep a stiff upper lip and ignore my tormentors.  They wouldn’t step in. They considered it part of the culture and part of my training in adulthood.  But I think we need to be talking more about the role of parents.  The school’s role is important, but the training in compassionate strength needs to begin at home.  What do your guests do to address that?

  • Isis

    I don’t buy that schools are overwhelmed and can’t address sexual harrassment. Teachers can do this directly. I was sexually harrassed in the classroom by a male student in front of the teacher, who was a basketball coach and he did nothing. It wasn’t until I spoke out during lunch how this student was a jerk in front of other students that he finally did something, which was to take me aside afterschool and yell at me. 

  • SFMomma

    Thank you for a timely subject. Just last week, my 7th grade daughter told her guidance counselor that a gym teacher rubbed her in an inappropriate manner after a minor accident.  As a parent of a somewhat dramatic 7th grade girl, I wasn’t sure whether what she described was inappropriate or not. In questioning her about it and emphasizing the ramifications of exaggeration, I fear I squelched her.  What advice do you have for parents (of historically dramatic teens) on how to balance things like this? 

    • Lee The

       Tell her the story of the boy who cried wolf, then point out that she may be right this time but no one who knows her can be sure because she’s played the drama card so many times in the past. So she’ll need either corroborative witnesses or followup harassments to make her case.

      Learning to speak so she’s taken seriously when it’s actually serious could be more useful to her in life than the original issue here.

  • Getit

    The problem is not sexual harrassment as much as bullying, sexual harrassment is a subset.

    What’s necessary are, beginning in the first grade, mandatory life skill classes regarding what is right, wrong, appropriate and inappropriate social behavior in all social situations…including how to communicate and express oneself in all social situations that might present themselves. This also includes how to effectively deal with situations in which one is feeling violated…before it becomes a damaging situation…as well as when it becomes a crisis.

    Almost all problems become so due to a failure to recognize and handle experiences when they are in their potential stages rather than as full blown crisis.

    Such is the nature of all social ills…and such is the nature of how to effectively and appropriately deal with them (i.e., eliminate problems by dealing with the situation when it is not a problem…before it becomes one…and effective appropriate measures for each stage of crisis).

    The real problem is fear…and how to deal with it as well as overcome it.

  • Max O’Neil

    I wonder if there have been any studies to indicate whether the harassement is more prevalent these days than in the past? I suspect that rather than being more prevalent these days, we are more aware of the problems.

  • Lee The

    The figure of 50% is realistic if it includes non-physical harassment. But as these comments show, many people try to hijack this issue on behalf of their own obsessions. Harassment of anyone who’s different in any way–especially girls who get large breasts early–is built into our species–particularly in the middle school years, when hormones rage and socialization is incomplete.

    I’m neither homosexual nor a busty female, yet was harassed continually throughout public school because I lived in blue-collar communities and had an IQ of around 150. Harassment of smart kids is pervasive in such communities but never gets mentioned.

    The fundamental fact is that regardless of why you’re being harassed, you can be sure that school officials will not protect you–and often your parents won’t either. You’re on your own. In fact if you complain you’ll often have adult authority figures get angry with you for making trouble.

    This affected me more than the harassment itself–it made me deeply antisocial, which took decades and wonderful spouse to overcome. I once had a workmate who was a beautiful woman and a Harvard grad and had gotten large breasts by age 12, and she’d gotten seriously harassed both for being smart and for being busty, and in her 20s was still dealing with the aftermath, which can resemble the PTSD soliders experience.

  • Kann

    As a family we are considering sending our children to a private middle school to avoid the perceived dangerous environment at our local public middle school. Was there any differences in the occurrences of harassment in public versus private school?

  • Ed from berkeley

    Within my close group of friends from high school (we are all still friends) there were of course the sexual jokes from people trying to be funny that sometimes stepped over the line. But in my circle of friends this kind of thing wasn’t really accepted, and that kind of behavior was ignored and even ostracized to the point where it didn’t really occur anymore.

    So my question is: is COMPLETELY ignoring this behavior or people who engage in this behavior in order to get rid of it a practical or realistic option for groups of kids and even young adults? Or can this even hurt more than it helps because I know that being ostracized from people who you think are your friends can be disappointing as well.

  • Elizabeth

    I think it bears noting that statistically speaking, the number of students who stand up to harassers is almost double the number of teachers who stand up to harassers.

  • Kt

    Growing up in Texas, I was subjected to some student-on-student sexual harassment about age 11. I told the administration about it and they were interested… until they found out it was a fellow student. The entire thing was dropped.
    I would get sick to my stomach, and I HATED school. This was at the same time I was diagnosed with a 2cm kidney stone and heart problems. I also had an algebra teacher who would call me to the front of the class and make fun of me for missing class. Sometimes I was missing class because I was at the hospital. Ugh.

  • Realistic

    Mandatory school uniforms and dress codes would go along way to get kids properly focused on the whole point of school, which is education. The simple fact that most parents don’t realize that they incidentally feed these types of problems by allowing too much freedom without proper focus. Mandatory school uniforms would elevate students minds and the educational prestige of our country in general, not to mention how much this would curb sexual harassment. We’re not proactive, but always reactive to this and most all issues that affect the children, the future of our society. Doesn’t make sense to me and hints to a lack of focus from parenting.

  • Sam

    Parents at homes should teach their boys from early age on how to respect girls.  I see it every day in playgrounds at schools parents do not stop their kids and talk to them about what they say and how they behave. We should teach the parents first on how to be a parent we need to change the culture.

  • Joemax93

    Have your guests mentioned the recent “anti-bullying” law passed in Michigan, which was effectively gutted by Republican legislators that demanded an exemption which makes it acceptable to torment a classmate if it’s based on a “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” So some kid can call another kid a “Fa**ot how’s going to die and go to hell” and that’s OK, since it was a “sincerely held religious belief.” How can any anti-bullying legislation be effective in the face of such right-wing religious bigotry?

  • Curandero50

    At 16 I was raped by 4 teen girls at a party. This was not intercourse it was penetration with a hairbrush. It should be known that even boys can be the victim of sexual assualt. This event colored by relationships with women for 40c years. When my daughters were growing they were constantly harassed due to their physical attributes. We have become a crude and cruel society with our obssession with sexual beauty, crudeness, and violence.

  • Debbie

    I work in Special Education. The Boundaries curriculum is being used to teach  levels of intimacy to our students. This program is based on the work of Marklyn P. Champagne, RN, who is affiliated with the Rhode Island Divison of Retardation and Leslie Walker-Hirsch, I. M. Ed. FAAIDD, Social Development and Sexuality Consultant Santa Fe, NM. This concept could be adapted to general education since our kids are so desensitized to inappropriate language and behavior. Harrassment and offensive behavior are in the eyes and ears of the recipient.

  • Irene van der Zande

    At kidpower.org, we teach that sexual harassment is like pollution. It usually doesn’t kill you right away, but it diminishes your quality of life right away and definitely causes damage that accumulates over time.

    Sexual harassment is destructive to the education process, and adults are responsible for taking the lead in making it stop. 

    Schools, parents and students all need tools for addressing this serious problem. Please see our free article “Stopping Sexual Harassment in Schools” http://www.kidpower.org/resources/articles/sexual-harassment-schools.htmlKidpower.org has 22 years of experience teaching people of all ages and abilities how to take charge of their physical and emotional safety with people everywhere they go.

  • Dave

    I am annoyed at the touchy-feely psychology that the guests put forth, aiming to villify society instead of the bullies. Harassment is a crime, and should be punished; trying to coax the bullies into changing their social values will do nothing because bullying is a natural attempt to exert dominance over others. Stop apologizing for the bullies! Your policies remind me of my old middle school administrators–ineffectual and ready to believe the excuses of these criminals. Increase the punishments for bullying, listen toand protect the victim, and stop pinning your hopes on the belief that these bullies can be redeemed.

    • Anne

      That strikes me as a very pessimistic view of human nature.  I agree that there is a natural impulse to push our boundaries and experiment with our power, but the idea that people can’t learn to control that is very sad.  Shouldn’t people, especially children, be given the chance and the skills to learn to use their power in an appropriate, respectful way?  It seems at least worth trying, instead of just giving up completely.

  • Bart

    Boy on boy sexual harassment was common when I was in school. I encountered it mainly from “Jersey Shore” types of boys i.e. Italian-American Catholics. As a good looking boy myself who was an outsider, I was actually the focus of latent-homosexual harassment because their dominant ethnic group was not my own. They had a visceral need to accuse me of being gay in really cowardly, indirect ways, and twisted things to prevent me from rejecting their belief.

  • Widstrand

    There is a resource that is interactive with the children called “Challenge Day”. This organization discusses situations such as bullying and the anguish of sexual harassment. They are trying to reach as many schools as they can. as a instructor I participated as a facillator in this interaction. The kids work through self admittions of being involved in and having experiences with sexual harassment and bullying. This was in a middle school environment.The web address is  http://www.challengeday.org/videos.php. It was a moving experience for myself as well as the kids. I would recommend it as a tool to combat childhood torment.

  • Jen, San Jose

    bullying has been going on for decades- my 75 year old father remembers bullying when he was a boy. It’s nothing new. THe difference  is that today people are willing to discuss how completely wrong it is. Perhaps this is beginning of the end- but we must be willing to listen to the kids in order to open the “code of silence” that is so pervasive.  My son was worried that he would be called “gay” if he stood up for someone else…sigh.  Educate, educate, educate…

  • Tam

    missrepresentation.org is a documentary that deals w/ part of this issue – in terms of how media supports the sexualization of women – it’s only part of the problem I know but at least it’s a place to start in terms of education in schools and at home.

  • Mike

    All I hear is educate, educate, educate. However, one option that hasn’t been discussed is simple separation. What is the research on this matter for girls only and boys only schools? If all theses problems begin at grade 6, why not separate the sexes into different classrooms until they are fully formed adults? What’s the counter-argument?

  • CCrocker

    Since sexual harassment became a prevalent issue in society,
    which people began to discuss and prevent (I am assuming sometime during the 70’s),
    our governing institutions have focused on preventing it primarily in the
    workplace. I find that most legislatures, regulation, mandates or what have you,
    focus on reactionary measures instead of building a foundation of preventative
    measures. Yes, we need sexual harassment laws in the workplace, but why not regulate
    measures where it starts. All teachers and school personnel should be trained
    in preventing sexual harassment, bullying, and sex education, a like. It should
    be part of the school curriculum, everywhere. What good is a no tolerance
    policy, if it’s not implemented, and enforced on continuous basis? Why do
    individuals even think its ok in the workplace, because from a very young age they
    have been raised by a society who reacts to this issue as if it’s just another
    growing pain in life! For anyone who doubts these statics, just think back and
    remember your experience in school, this is a fact of life but it doesn’t mean that
    it can’t be prevented or changed. Thank you to these individuals who are making a

  • Irvin

    Taking complaints more seriously is undoubtedly a first
    step, but then we need to address sexual harassment more broadly. Schools are
    the petri dishes for our broader society: what goes on outside is enacted in
    the classroom. Socialization (“education”) means children learn from
    adults, and not from what they say but as much as what they *do*. Puberty is when
    an adolescent transforms from child to adult, and that period is characterized
    by an emerging sexuality. We live an in sexualized society where an adolescent form
    of feminine beauty is idolized. Sexual expression is therefore socially
    constructed and “it takes two to tango.” To think that young girls
    can dress provocatively and that this has nothing to do with harassment is
    blind-sighted. If females attract, males will make advances. To ignore this
    most basic sexual — and biological — dynamic is simply prudishness.

  • Kirsten

    My 15 year old daughter has never complained of harassment, but my 12 year old son is often verbally accosted by outspoken girls who call him annoying or obnoxious. Every time he verbally shoots back, he gets in trouble for bullying…

    It seems from at least our family’s experience that this kind of ‘initiative’ can turn into a system whereby the ‘victims’ become sanctioned bullies.

    It seems to me that *parents* are to blame if their children are continually out of line and creating a PC gestapo in the schools only creates oppression for everyone (especially the boys).

    How about holding parents more responsible for their children’s behavior?

  • Lucida

    I am concerned that a victim-based approach to this gives children more power if they act like victims.

    In time you will have drama queens and drama kings having so much power over their peers by the volume of their whining and the fabrication of he-said she-said accusations.

    So in order to address REAL and SERIOUS sexual harassment, we need to take a balanced approach and use proactive observation-based intervention. If an individual (male or female) is a constant source of either complaints or abuses, they need to be identified and monitored directly.

    For this to work, those who falsely accuse need equal attention and correction… and that’s a big job to undertake. Kids will be kids and false accusations are rampant as any parent of more than one child knows.

  • A.

    Thank you so much to the guests for this show.  I really hope it raises awareness, even if the comments here are making me pessimistic.

    I can’t believe some of these suggestions – separating boys and girls doesn’t change attitudes.  Dress codes don’t change attitudes.  Blaming adults instead of teaching kids is useless – maybe if more adults had this kind of intervention as kids, things would be better.  Educating and providing resources for survivors should be top priority.

    I myself was sexually harassed by a classmate in 7th grade.  I developed much earlier and more noticeably than most girls my age.  I felt self-conscious and dressed like someone 40 years older. Nevertheless, the boy made a number of inappropriate remarks about my body and propositioned me multiple times.  A female classmate of ours could hear what he was saying and laughed as if it were funny.  Her reaction made me feel even worse, like it wasn’t right for me to feel humiliated and disgusted about it.  I was able to get the teacher to seat me across the room from him after that, but I was so ashamed I didn’t give her details, and I had no idea if I had any other resources to tap into.  I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone for over 10 years and it destroyed my self-image and made me afraid of sexuality for a long time.  We need girls like me to have places to go and be heard.

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