Opinion

Opinion: Standing Up to Sexual Harassment

BY STELLA BRYAN

Harassment is something that both men and women can experience on a daily basis. It can range from a whistle to being physically hurt, and there isn’t much awareness being brought to this topic. It can happen anywhere, school, work, on the street. There are ways we can prevent it from happening, but why do we never act on those changes?

Walking from place to place can lead to many forms of harassment, one of the most common being “catcalling”. The instagram user @catcallsofnyc posts real quotes from people catcalling others. Many of them are extremely inappropriate and generally disrespectful. One of the more mild quotes is as follows: “Do you smile at everyone like that or was it just for me?”. It may not seem threatening, but in this case this man continued to follow this woman and attempted to make conversation with her. As a way of being safe, she talked to him. He continued to try and convince her to give him her number which made her uncomfortable, but she felt “afraid to leave without giving him it”. In many cases the victim feels as though they’re obligated to converse with the individual harassing them as a means of protecting themselves and not aggravating them. You never know how someone could act out of spite. 

This is also a huge problem in places of education, in regards to students and teachers. Some of the stories being shared on the previously mentioned Instagram account include an 8th grader having a boy tell her that he believed rape should be legal. She was angry at him for saying such a thing, and he simply replied “Don’t worry you’re not pretty enough to get raped”. Along with that, when a student was in class she could visibly tell that her friend (who was sitting near a group of boys), was uncomfortable. She then overheard one of the boys stating “Yeah I’d totally rape her, all night long dude”. It takes nothing but ignorance and unconsciousness to believe that someone would enjoy being harassed, let alone that what is coming out of our moth is remotely okay. The words these children are saying hurt. Someone needs to step up and check that conversations like these aren’t taking place. 

With teachers and staff, there’s an unnecessary amount of close mindedness. The same account shared the story of a middle schooler who got teased for her chest, and the principal said, “It’s your fault for not covering up.” Under no circumstances is it her fault for the words someone said to her. She couldn’t control it, and had to experience unnecessary consequences. In another case, a student went to the bathroom and a guy had followed her in and started saying foul things to her. She went back to class and told her female teacher who proceeded to tell her “Well, dressed like that you’re asking for it.” Prevention and acceptance is in dire need in these circumstances. If someone is brave enough to tell another what they went through, we shouldn’t blame them. It isn’t their fault, and they shouldn’t be treated as though it is. 

A problem that can’t be solved with a logical solution is a problem we’re always going to face. Force isn’t something we can apply to a situation like this, as it’s people deciding what they do and/or say. We can argue against it and encourage people to think before they speak, but that’s it. Be smart, if you say something that you would be hurt by to another individual, they will most likely feel that hurt. Process what you’re about to say, think hard about it, and consider feelings. Worldwide we may not be able to put a stop to this, but starting on improving it in schools is a start. We’d be looking at it from a smaller perspective, and would have a higher chance of improvement. But, how do we prevent harassment in our schools?

Schools are where students spend the majority of their time as they grow up. Its where we learn and grow up. However, it’s also become a place where students don’t feel comfortable considering that according to ASCD.org, “85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys in grades 8-11 have experienced some sort of sexual harassment.” It then goes on to state the statistics involving physical harassment in schools. It reads, “In fact, 65 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys have actually been touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way in school.” It’s a problem that seems to grow larger every year, and there are some ways we can try our best to prevent it.

Teaching students about the act of consent at a young age is more reliable than starting later in their life. As students grow up, things slowly become ingrained into their brain. It’s more difficult to reverse those effects than teaching children about consent and respect at a younger age. University of Illinois Professor Paul Schewe believes, “Our dating education and sexual assault prevention education needs to occur before and during puberty, that’s when those beliefs and values and ideas get set. College, where most of our prevention efforts have been focused for the last 30 years, is probably entirely too late.” If we ingrain the ideas of consent, respect, and consideration into kids minds at a young age it will most likely impact how they speak to others. It will be the only thing they know. If someone is set in their particular ways at an older age, they’ll be less likely to change those ways. Like stated previously, we cannot force others to change their ways, but we can teach them young. 

Informing others to take action as a bystander is also very important, and can prevent many cases of sexual harassment and/or assault. If you witness a hurtful situation, rather standing there and ignoring it, students should be equipped to step in and help. We need to stop pointing fingers and labeling the victim and the suspect, and stop thinking about all the logistics. If you view a situation where someone is uncomfortable, being hurt, or generally disrespected you should speak up. You were given a voice for a reason, use it to help others if need be. We always teach students to not be a bystander to bullying, but why do we never teach them to not be a bystander to sexual harassment or assault? Statistics show how common it is. 1 in 4 girls experience it, and 1 in 6 boys do as well. If we step up and help those victims, they may feel comfortable enough to come forward and hold people accountable. 

Implementing these things in our district could be beneficial. Starting early children would be taught about the rules of consent, actions that are unacceptable, and how to respect those around you. Along with that they would become equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to not be a bystander and instead take action against the perpetrator. Many harassment cases could be prevented if we just made some small changes. One district that could learn from these simple steps is the Independence School District located right here in Independence, Missouri.

 I have attended ISD for my whole life, excluding a year I spent going to a different school in 6th grade. In the 11 years I’ve attended ISD, there have been various rumors of situations involving sexual harassment. One of the first things heard was a story that hit close to home. My sister had opened up and gone to social media about what had happened to her, as a way of looking for help. She eventually got an interview with news station KCTV5 and told her story. Regardless of the school knowing prior, she claimed they hadn’t done anything to help her. The story states, “She told the school about it in November. She claims it wasn’t until this week (Jan. 18, 2018) that she was offered all of the options available to help her with recovering from the incident.” These options weren’t enough. A simple class change, and switched lunch shift wouldn’t change being in the same building as someone who has hurt you so badly. As someone who saw the behind the scenes of this article, the pain someone feels from sexual assault, rape, or harassment is unimaginable. The suspect was simply given a disorderly conduct strike and went about his life. 

The district later made a full statement to KCTV5 stating, “We reached out to the student’s parent, asking to sign a release to allow us to share all of the supports we put in place for the student and they did not grant us permission.” Ultimately, this made the victim look as if they wanted to do just that, play the victim. It made her look like she was covering something up so she could make them look bad. However, when the district had reached out to Shelby she was at work, and wasn’t able to drop everything and sign a form. Manipulating her words was not a considerate thing to do, and ISD should improve the way they deal with situations like this, regardless if it’s off campus or not. 

Another school in the Independence School District, Van Horn, has experienced a case of sex abuse and child porn including a staff member and student. According to Fox4Kc, “Meghann Wells, 30, faces charges of statutory sodomy, possession of child porn, furnishing pornographic material to a minor and unlawful use of a weapon in Jackson County.” Wells was a counselor at Van Horn High School. She got involved with a 17-year old student who was then taken to Child Protective Services where they then told investigators what had been going on since 2017. This case was however different. Wells was found with a handgun and after the situation involving a minor, fired by the district. She is currently in custody with a $50,000 bond. 

Situations involving students are extremely serious, and the district is obligated to do something in order to make the student feel comfortable in school. If happening on school grounds, the district has even more means to make an effort to do something and hold someone accountable. If they’re in an uncomfortable situation, like a shared class or lunch shift, they should gain reassurance. If dealing with a student, they’re obviously still young. They’re still experiencing life and figuring everything out, we should comfort them, help them through their rough time. 

We also should not, under any circumstances, compare problems. If it seems small to you, it could be a huge deal to somebody else. Next time you’re put in a position where you feel uncomfortable, speak up. Talk to someone and get help. If you’re on the other end of things and know someone who has gone through something as destructive as sexual harassment or assault, be there for them. You never know, a small conversation could mean the world.

Categories: Opinion

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