We would like to think that scenarios of sexual harassment of our teens in school are few and far between. Sadly, this just is not true. Sexual harassment – what it is, how it effects, how to stop it – is not a topic commonly discussed when we discuss sexual issues with our children. Thus, when giving in to their “raging hormones” and “normal teenage tendencies”, our teens often cross the line – or are victims of those who do – and become involved in sexual harassment. Both of my daughters faced sexual harassment in high school. Neither of them were “asking for it”, nor did they do anything to encourage it. But it happened nonetheless.
My oldest daughter was a “late bloomer.” She rode the school bus to and from school and there was one particular young man who always teased her about the fact that she had very small breasts. He called her “IBT” – “itty bitty…(you get the rest).” She would come home every afternoon in tears because she was so embarrassed by this young man’s teasing. In fact, she felt that it was “her fault” and that “something must be wrong” with her because she had not developed yet. Our young women are so quick to take the blame on themselves, and this, too, is because of society’s reactions (or lackthereof) to inappropriate sexual behaviors.
I sat down my daughter and explained to her that what this young man did was called sexual harassment. I offered to talk to the bus driver and to the school, but I also told her that she needed to do the same – she needed to stand up for herself; take back the power, so to speak. We outlined a plan of action: First, she would tell the young man that she did not appreciate his comments and she wanted them to stop. Then she would report him to the school bus driver. If the actions continued, she would then report him to the guidance counselors, and continue on up the chain until she received the attention she deserved. I told her that at any time, I would be ready and willing to become involved – all she had to do was say the word.
The next day, she told the young man that she did not like his comments and she wanted them to stop. Having never faced objection to his lewd behavior, he was unable to believe this to be true! In fact, he stepped up his campaign of embarrassment, attempting to touch her in addition to his comments. My daughter reported him to the bus driver, who moved him to a different section of the bus (they had assigned seating). Needless to say, this did not solve the problem. She then took the matter to the guidance counselor. At this point, though I was not asked to “butt in”, I contacted the guidance counselor, too.
I told the guidance counselor the history of the problem, but I also told him that I had encouraged my daughter to stand up for herself and follow this through, though I could have much more easily done it for her. He understood my motive – I was trying to teach my daughter about self-worth coming from within. He took my information and used it, along with my daughter’s testimony, to have the young man removed from the bus for a period of one week. We both thought that his parents would be so upset with him that they would straighten him out before he returned to the bus.
We were wrong. In fact, I received a phone call from the boy’s father, informing me that I must be one of those “feminists” who didn’t understand that “boys will be boys” and that there is really no harm in a little “teasing”. After all, it just means that his son liked my daughter – but then maybe I wanted her to grow up to be a “dyke.” I tasted blood that day as I bit a hole in my tongue to keep from telling him what I thought of him.
When the young man returned to the bus, the IBT comments were worse than ever and so were the attempts to inappropriately touch my daughter. To add to her embarrassment, the boy had a few choice comments to share about her mother, courtesy of his father. It became time for me to get involved – officially.
When we met at the school counselor’s office, the boy’s mother and I saw eye-to-eye on the situation. The young man was suspended from the bus for the rest of the year. The last comment I heard from mom was that she would not be driving him to school, so the father and son had best work something out. I wanted to applaud her, and at the same time I felt badly for her.
Sexual harassment at school can be much worse than this. I have listened to my youngest daughter and her friends tell me about young men who ask them to meet them in the bathroom or stairwells in order to perform oral sex. Lewd comments are common. Even comments that couldn’t be considered “lewd” but yet reduce these girls to sexual objects instead of human beings do their damage. If we want our young women to understand and believe that they are worthy for their brains, intelligence, personality, abilities and talents, instead of just their beauty, then we have to help them insist on receiving respect for all these reasons.
The links attached at the bottom of this article include descriptions of various types of sexual harassment, a quiz for your teenager to take on sexual harassment to see how well they understand the problem, and an excellent “insight” article for parents and teens, alike. I hope that you will use these tools to include sexual harassment in your conversations with your teens. Encourage them to stand up for themselves – both boys and girls. Encourage them to stand up for others. Encourage them to become more enlightened teens that will grow into more enlightened adults.