By Deborah Rosenbloom, Director of Programs
On Tuesday, I attended a briefing for the release of the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) new study on sexual harassment experienced by girls and boys in grades 7 – 12 during May and June 2011. Unsurprisingly, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School found that sexual harassment is a part of school culture. Disappointingly, it found that only a fraction of the students who experienced sexual harassment reported the incident to an adult at school. Rosalind Wiseman, one of the panelists at the briefing, posited that this could be because all too often the adults don’t react in a helpful way, speaking to the need for training for all educators, not just Title IX administrators. Reporting sexual harassment may result in consequences for the harasser, but often the victim is the one who needs to move her or his seat in class or be accompanied down the hall by an adult. She also suggested that another reason students don’t speak out is because they share a code of silence.
So how can that world where harassment is just part of the day, like homework and exams, be changed? How can we change the culture of silence – not just the code of silence that teens may share, but the code of silence that adults – all of us – are part of? Maybe just by saying ‘hey stop it, you’re being a jerk’. Can we change our culture by speaking out? I think so – it’s worth a try.