Sexual harassment has become an issue that receives a lot of press coverage in the news. Stories of employers and employees who cross the line are becoming more and more common. What is not as well publicized is sexual harassment experienced by children within the walls of their schools. This affects children at all levels of education but is often hard to define or prove in the K–12 grades. Harassment takes many forms.
One in four middle school students report that they have experienced inappropriate touching or touching that makes them feel uncomfortable in some way. This includes touching by other students and school faculty.
While there is no question that harassment from an adult is clearly wrong, the lines between incidents involving students can be harder to define and prove. Many students are reluctant to report such incidents, as they don't want to call attention to themselves or feel that they may have caused it in some way.
Schools need to take a clear stance against such abuse and clearly outline to students the consequences of such behavior. They also need to have a simple and easy to understand reporting process that makes students feel supported and safe.
Students may feel discomfort from a teacher using study sessions or other school activities to spend one on one time with them. Such situations may confuse a student, as there is often nothing overtly sexual about such encounters, just a feeling of unease. A student may allow abuse to continue due to the promise of good grades or not reporting failing grades or other negative behaviors to parents or other school authorities.
Social/emotional abuse between peers is on the rise due to the advent of 24/7 social media platforms. Students may become the victim of photo sharing, harassing posts, or other sexual innuendo.
Having continual open dialogue with students and families can help preserve the school environment as the safe place it should be.
Verbal sexual harassment is often the hardest to define and prove, especially between students. Today's children are constantly exposed to images and verbiage that is highly sexualized and easily accessed on the web and social media sites.
Comments about a student's body, sexual orientation, sexual activity, and even their very gender can become sexualized and inappropriate among even the youngest students. Students may think they are being cute or funny but in fact, their words are demoralizing and painful to those on the receiving end.
Starting in earliest grades a clear understanding of what is and is not appropriate behavior needs to be clearly defined and explained to students and to parents. There should be no question of what is and isn't OK to say in the classrooms and hallways.
Parents of students who experience harassment that is not handled appropriately by school authorities should meet with attorneys like Clark & Clark LLC and other legal professionals who have experience with such harassment and the ability to stop it in its tracks.