In recent years, the headlines regarding sexual misconduct by school staff members with students have become all too familiar. Approximately 4.5 million students are subject to some kind of sexual misconduct - ranging from inappropriate sexual comments to outright molestation - by an employee of a school, between kindergarten and 12th grade.
Students who are harassed report that they have trouble sleeping, do not want to go to school, and change their route to get to school. Of course this stress results in decreased productivity and learning, and increased absenteeism. There are many types of sexual harassment, including verbal, nonverbal, physical, and cyber.
Sexual Harassment in Schools by the Numbers
- 21% of girls, compared to 7% of boys, report being cyberbullied, online or over texts.
- About half of students in general are at the receiving end of sexual harassment. And, 87% of them said it had a negative effect on them.
- 30% of students have observed sexual harassment.
- At least one in four middle school students say they've experienced unwanted verbal or physical sexual harassment on school grounds.
- Only 9% report the harassment to a school staff member, and only 27% reported it to family members or friends. Approximately one-half of targeted students didn’t report at all.
- GLSEN found that nearly 75% of LGBTQ students are verbally harassed. The study also found that grade point averages for LGBTQ students who were harassed were between nine and 15% lower than for others, and that 30% had missed at least one day of school in the month prior to their survey.
Statistics from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and GLSEN.
Understanding the Problem
Students experience unwanted physical touching, verbal sexual commentary, and homophobic name-calling in the halls, classrooms and gym. Students often dismiss this behavior as normal. Surprisingly, many school staff members don’t understand sexual harassment and cannot clearly distinguish it from bullying. Some fail to intervene, or in some cases unintentionally normalize it.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior or communication that is sexual in nature when:
- A student or employee is led to believe that he or she must submit to unwelcome sexual conduct or communications in order to gain something in return, such as a grade, a promotion, a place on a sports team, or any educational or employment decision.
- The conduct substantially interferes with a student's educational performance, or creates an intimidating or hostile educational or employment environment.
Examples of Sexual Harassment
- Pressuring a person for sexual favors.
- Unwelcome touching of a sexual nature.
- Writing graffiti of a sexual nature.
- Distributing sexually explicit texts, e-mails, or pictures.
- Making sexual jokes, rumors, or suggestive remarks.
- Physical violence, including rape and sexual assault.
According to an AAUW survey, many students – evenly, both boys and girls – admit to sexually harassing another student. When asked why, almost half of those surveyed said, “It’s just part of school life/it’s no big deal,” and a third said they just “thought it was funny.” The study also found that most of the students who admitted to being harassers, had been harassed themselves, suggesting that sexual harassment can often be a vicious cycle that becomes normal.
Preventing Sexual Harassment
- Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws, as well as your school’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment.
- Create a culture of caring and respect.
- Be approachable.
- Diligent documentation and good communication are effective preventive tools against harassment.
- Schools should consider adopting a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment.
- Schools should draft and enforce a solid anti-harassment policy. Such a policy should clearly state what type of conduct is unacceptable and provide examples. The policy should also explain what will happen if it is violated, namely that the person violating it will be subject to discipline up to and including termination/expulsion. The policy should describe the complaint procedure and provide a list of administrators that an employee or student can go to with a harassment complaint. Furthermore, the policy should discuss confidentiality and the protections available against retaliation.
- Schools should clearly communicate to employees and students that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and students, and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee or student complains.
How SafeSchools Can Help
The SafeSchools Online Training System includes a variety of expert-authored courses dedicated to helping your staff and students prevent incidents of sexual harassment, including:
- Boundary Invasion
- Sexual Harassment: Policy & Prevention
- Sexual Harassment: Staff-to-Staff
- Sexual Harassment (Student Course)
- Sexual Harassment: Student Issues & Response
- Sexual Misconduct: Staff-to-Student
We also offer our SafeSchools Alert Tip Reporting System that allows students, staff and parents to confidentially report safety concerns, including incidents of sexual harassment, to your administration 24/7/365 via mobile app, text, phone, email, and website.
With preventative education, training, and preparedness, we hope that we can all work together to make this school year the safest on record.