Pixaby
Source: Pixaby

In this day and age, as in the past, it is unfortunate that we still have a critical need to teach teens how and why sexual harassment and assault is wrong. With one in five women reporting rape in their lifetime, and one in 20 men and women reporting sexual violence in their lifetime, we cannot continue to bury this crisis (CDC, 2012). The rate of sexual assault and rape of high school students is alarming. According to the CDC, 42 percent of women report being raped under the age of 18 years and 30 percent of girls report being raped between the ages of 11 to 17 years. Hence, it is imperative that we pay close attention to helping our youth in middle and high schools learn the definitions and behaviors of sexual harassment and assault, and how they are an abuse of power.                                     

Navigating the terrain of sexual harassment and assault with minors is complex and painful, given the myriad of emotional, legal, social, and ethical issues, as outlined by The Washington Post. The possibilities of backlash, victim blaming, self-harm, expulsions, suicide, denial, and apathy create a high-risk landscape for young students and their families.

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools is a national organization that proactively educates and provides resources to K-12 schools and parents, to address the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in schools. With a unique model of prevent, support, inform, and empower, this organization provides us with a model that should be implemented in all K-12 schools across the country. Schools, educational organizations, administrators, and teachers need to make a commitment to their students to develop and implement similar prevention and support models, thereby creating safe classrooms, playgrounds, and after-school environments for their students.

Although there may be disagreement on how to approach the national crisis of youth sexual harassment and assault, here are some possibilities that could foster awareness, empowerment, and prevention amongst teenagers in middle and high schools:

  • Begin raising awareness early. Elementary and middle schoolers are overly exposed to sexual content and aggression, yet there is little discussion about inappropriate, unsafe, and abusive behaviors.
  • Define sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape to middle and high schoolers over and over again. The statistics show that even our younger students are at high-risk, and raising their awareness and attention to sexual violence is necessary.
  • Definitions are not enough: explain the behaviors involved in sexual harassment and assault, so that the teens can understand and relate to the words. Provide training, case studies, role modeling, and videos in supervised discussions, so that the students can internalize the positive messages and learn healthy sexual boundaries and respect for others.
  • Share the message frequently. It is insufficient to simply provide an annual training day for this crisis. Frequently repeated information is far more likely to have an impact.
  • Outline and broadcast on campus how bullying includes sexual harassment and assault.
  • Have overt and clear structures, process, rules, and consequences for how reports of sexual harassment and assault will be addressed by the school.
  • Engage in a zero-tolerance policy, as you do with bullying.
  • Provide safe, confidential, and appropriate resources for reporting that are made well known to students. As we know from recent media cases, victims are often afraid to share and don't have safe access to reporting harassment and assault.
  • Provide repeated and frequent training for school teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses, and administrators. These are our frontline professionals who can be safe and informed adults for students to turn to.
  • Role model healthy, safe, and respectful behaviors in all our interactions with others. Social learning theory has demonstrated how kids learn from watching and listening to adults; kids are likely to re-enact our behaviors with their peers. If we are kind, respectful, healthy, and appropriate in our daily interactions, we are likely to have more success with our children role modeling similar behaviors and language.
  • Invite and join with parents to stop sexual harassment and assault in schools. Provide training, education, awareness, and support to parents so that they can protect their children and have appropriate conversations with their teens. Collaboration is key, as the more adults we have working on this issue, the better our children will fare.
  • Empower, Empower, Empower. As parents and professionals, we are responsible for the safety of our children at schools, at camps, at friends' homes, and on the playground. We must empower ourselves to fully understand and address this crisis if we are to make any significant change.

Be a part of the change and make a commitment to take the steps to teach our teens, in schools and homes, how and why sexual harassment and assault are wrong and an abuse of power.

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