- Simon Rodberg, a former Washington, D.C., principal and current educational consultant, shares his opinion in EdSurge on how schools can take the lead in shaping student attitudes about sexual harassment issues.
- Schools must create cultures where sexual harassment is discouraged and reporting incidents is promoted, he says, especially as students are just learning what the boundaries are. This requires clear policies, intentional education on the topic and open, age-appropriate discussions starting as early as 6th grade.
- Students also need clear instructions about what constitutes consent. Rodberg suggests teaching affirmative consent, which demands a clear and explicit “yes” from the other party, not just an absence of a “no."
Federal, state and local sexual harassment policies are changing as more people are being confronted with the reality that behavior once viewed as a normal rite of passage was actually sexual harassment, and more people — most notably, women — are finding their voices and demanding to be treated with respect instead of becoming victims. There are obvious legal, moral and ethical ramifications to sexual harassment, and students are seeing some of these effects by witnessing or hearing about celebrities facing accusations, getting sent to jail or, in the case of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, being questioned about every aspect of their behavior while in school.
These events, though troubling, do offer platforms to discuss an issue that has long been overlooked. Sexual harassment at school is a bigger problem than most leaders realize or want to admit. In a 2014 survey of roughly 1,400 middle school students, 27% of girls and 25% of boys reported they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment or violence. And the issue is not just limited to students — roughly 25% of female educators and 6% of male educators have also faced sexual harassment or assault at school. But during the #MeToo era, more people are starting to speak up about it: Since the movement took off last year, workplace sexual harassment claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission spiked, and during the Kavanaugh hearing alone, the number of calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline more than doubled.
Students and teachers need to be taught about the types of sexual harassment and be aware of how to report it if it occurs. There are online resources available that can help inform students and staff about sexual harassment and consent and make them feel more comfortable about reporting such instances if they take place. Before this can happen, however, schools also need to make sure they have clear, updated polices in place to help them respond appropriately and effectively.