Society must do more to battle sex harrassment

Events in Steubenville, Ohio make you wonder how people can stand by while a young woman is being raped.

At what point do we determine behavior is crossing the line? At what point do we have the courage to intervene?

Recent articles and editorials in The Mining Journal have increased public awareness of sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Knowledge Network conducted a nationwide survey of students in grades 7-12 in May -June 2011 revealing 48 percent of the 1965 students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school year.

The American Association of University Women’s ground breaking report “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School” is based on data gathered.

Sexual harassment was defined as unwelcome sexual behavior which takes place in person or electronically. If the parties like or agree to the sexual behavior, it is not sexual harassment.

In person examples: “a boy tried to unzip my pants,” reported an eighth-grade girl.

“They tried to corner me in the soccer goal and touch my private parts.” – a seventh-grade girl.

“A friend said I was known to give oral sex to any male who wanted or needed it because everyone knows and suspects I am gay.”- 10th-grade boy.

“I was called a whore because I have many friends that are boys.” – ninth-grade girl. Electronic example: “They had a picture of my face attached to an animal having sex and had the words ‘Who’s Next’ written next to it referring to my girlfriend.” -12th-grade boy.

Many students (44 percent) who admitted to sexually harassing others did not think of it as a big deal, 39 percent were trying to be funny. Revenge accounted for 23 percent.

These findings strongly suggest that there needs to be an understanding that sexual harassment can indeed be a big deal for the victims.

Girls more than boys were negatively affected: 22 percent had trouble sleeping, 14 percent for boys. Not wanting to go to school: 37 percent girls vs 25 percent boys.

Negative emotional effects took a toll on girls’ education, resulting in decreased productivity, and increased absenteeism from school.

Students appear to know right from wrong. Students hold the key. Ignoring sexual harassment when it happens disempowers the sexually harassed student.

The harasser does not know the sexually harassed student and the witness does not like the behavior The behavior has crossed the line. Students recommended telling the harasser to stop, reporting the harasser, seeing if the sexually harassed student is OK.

Students can ask what the school’s sexual harassment policy is and who the Title IX coordinator is and share that information with friends and classmates. Title IX requires schools to have a coordinator.

Create a stop sexual harassment campaign. Ask other students what they think could prevent it. Gwinn Schools had a successful Challenge Day to stop bullying. It did help build empathy. “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” was designed to do this as well.

AAUW makes the following recommendations: Schools that do not have a sexual harassment policy must create one and all schools should make sure that the policy is publicized an enforced.

Schools must ensure that students are educated about what sexual harassment is, what their rights are under Title IX and how to respond if they experience or witness sexual harassment.

Schools must train staff and faculty to recognize and respond to sexual harassment and know how to help students who come to them and know their obligations if they witness sexual harassment.

Schools must work to create a culture of respect, acceptance for all without regard to gender presentation or sexual orientation reinforcing this by attitude, words and actions of school officials, faculty and staff.

Schools must teach all students that sexual harassment is not funny.

Schools must recognize and address how race, class, gender and sexual orientation can cause some students to be more likely targets.

Schools must teach students about cyber harassment, their rights and how to respond to or report instances.

We all need to do what we can. It takes a village

Editor’s note: Karlyn Rapport of Marquette serves as public policy representative for the Marquette branch of the American Association of University Women. She also is a member of the Michigan AAUW Public Policy Committee, the Marquette Women’s Center/Harbor House board in addition to being a former Marquette County commissioner.