Sexual Harassment Study Raises Concern

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

Last month, a study by the Non Partisan American Association of University Women found that 48 percent of 7th to 12th grade students experienced some form of sexual harassment in school.

According to the Miramonte High School sexual harassment policy, sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical contact of a sexual nature made by someone from or in the work or education setting.”

Demands for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, requests, and other oral or physical conduct of sexual nature motivated by gender or sexual orientation are considered severe forms of sexual harassment.  However, sexual harassment also includes oral harassment, physical harassment, and visual harassment.  These offenses are punishable when at school.

Forms of verbal harassment include derogatory comments, jokes or slurs, directed at someone due to their gender or sexual orientation.  Physical harassment includes unwelcome, unnecessary or offensive touching, or even blocking the movement of another person.  Visual harassments are visual contacts such as derogatory or offensive posters, cartoons, cards, drawings, graffiti, or gestures.

“Even if a girl is feeling uncomfortable, a guy might still do it,” said sophomore Jonathan Chan.  “Because to them it’s just hitting on a girl, not degrading them.”

“I think students comment on other people’s bodies a lot,” said sophomore Courtney Attard.  “It seems like physical appearance is very important at our school.”

After surveying nearly 2,000 students, the study concluded that most harassment involved unwanted sexual comments, advances, and jokes rather than physical harassment; 30 percent of students said these unwanted actions were initiated over text, email, or through a social networking site.

“I think that the Internet puts a wall between people,” said sophomore Chris Tennant.  “So you can say things that are more harmful without having any remorse.”

More girls than boys reported to have been harassed (a 56 to 40 percent ratio), and 87 percent of the students surveyed reported negative effects including minimal sleep, stomachaches, absenteeism, and a clear disinterest in returning to school as a result of the harassment.

“It can make people want to change their body.  I guess it makes some people self- conscious at school, and creates a self-conscious environment,” said Attard.  “Everyone is worried about their physical appearance because of the stress that everyone is put under to have a good body.”

“As a student, you have more power than anybody to change this culture,” said Counselor Marilyn Lewis-Hampton. “A message coming from you is much more powerful than one coming from an adult.”

Nearly half of students surveyed said they did nothing about their harassment.

“I don’t think people take offense to it as much as it happens; we are used to it, and I think that people can take a joke more than the rules say we can,” said Tennant.  “The rules are way more stingy than they need to be.”

“We receive sexual harassment complaints not nearly as often as it occurs,” said Lewis-Hampton.

At Miramonte, sexual harassment is grounds for expulsion when directed at a pupil or school personnel according to the Education Code 48900.3

“It can be anywhere from calling a person a name to something even more vicious than that,” said Associate Principal Jan Carlson.  “The consequence depends on the extent of the behavior.”

“It probably depends on the level of severity.  If a student is just feeling uncomfortable, they wouldn’t talk to anyone,” said Tennant.  “But if I was feeling threatened or unsafe, I would tell somebody; but not just because I felt uncomfortable.

Sexual harassment is a form of bullying. Bullying occurs when a student or group of students targets another, and is considered sexual harassment when motivated by sex or gender.

“There’s a difference for when people are actually making fun of you, and when people are just talking about you,” said Attard.  “They don’t dislike you but they’re talking about your body anyways.”

While bullying falls under different state laws, harassment falls under federal law.  Sexual harassment is illegal in schools under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  This law prohibits sexual discrimination in schools receiving federal funds, and applies to all school-sponsored activities: athletics, field trips, extracurricular programs, and bus or school-sponsored transportation.  All students, male or female, are therefore protected from two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment.

“I think many girls who consider approaching an administrator about harassment worry what effect it will have on their reputation and how they are perceived by guys,” said Chan.

When a student has been harassed, “we try to make sure that the student has strategies and tools to use so that if anything comes forward, they feel equipped to handle it,” said Carlson.  “And of course to report it immediately to an adult on campus.”

“I don’t think people are brave enough to report it very often,” said Attard.  “Either people don’t take offense to it, or they do, but don’t know what to do about it and are embarrassed to talk about it with anyone.”

“Every student is here to get an education and if you’re being harassed in any way, that’s going to make getting that education that much more difficult,” said Principal Adam Clark.  “Therefore you have to advocate for yourself and you have to come to an administrator or a counselor, or to me so that I can work on solving the problem.”