Sexual harassment is prevalent in middle schools, high schools, and universities around the nation. Almost half of surveyed students in grades 7 to 12 (from the 2010-2011 school year) experienced some form of sexual harassment at school, and 87 percent said it had a negative effect on them, reports the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
It is important for parents to have a discussion with their teens about sexual harassment, and to let them know they should speak up if they encounter it. Teenagers should understand what their rights are, how to recognize sexual harassment, and what to do if they think they have been sexually harassed at school or in the workplace.
Below, we provide useful information and resources for parents as they begin this discussion with their kids.
What types of sexual harassment are teens exposed to?
A good way to begin the conversation with teens is to explain exactly what sexual harassment entails so they will be able to recognize it should it occur, and so they understand whether their own behavior constitutes harassment. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights provides a good definition:
“Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Sexual harassment is not limited to groping or making sexual advances. It includes many behaviors, including:
- Unwanted sexual comments or jokes
- Using obscene or sexually-suggestive gestures
- Sharing sexually-suggestive drawings, pictures, or websites
- Rating other students based on their sexual performance
- Name calling (e.g., about a person’s sexuality, sexual orientation, etc.)
- Spreading sexual-related rumors at school or online
The AAUW reports that verbal harassment was most common in schools, but physical harassment also occurred frequently. Sexual harassment via electronic means is also becoming widespread. In fact, an estimated 30 percent of students reported being victims of sexual harassment through text, email, or social media.
What should teens do if they encounter sexual harassment?
Federal laws, such as Title IX and Title VII, provide teens the right to learn in a safe, harassment-free setting, as well as a right to work in an environment free of hostility. The law also protects them against retaliation or discrimination for reporting sexual harassment.
Parents should reiterate to their teens that they should not tolerate sexual harassment or any other form of bullying. If they ever encounter sexual harassment, they should confront it by:
- Voicing their concerns. Students should tell their harasser they do not like the behavior and to stop.
- Recording the incidents. They should make a note of who harassed them, when/where the incident occurred, and a brief description of what happened. If the harassment was electronic, they can take a screenshot or print it out.
- Reporting it. Students should report the harassment to a person of authority like a teacher, principal, or supervisor at work.
- Talking to you. Teens concerned about sexual harassment should discuss it with their parents. Parents can speak to the school, report it to authorities, or take legal action, if appropriate.
Sexual Harassment Resources for Teens
There are various informative resources freely available that can help you educate your teen on sexual harassment and provide fodder for ongoing conversations. Here are several:
- Stop Sexual Assault in Schools: This collaborative non-profit provides various resources, including videos, guides, information about rights and filing complaints, and activism ideas.
- The DOE’s Know Your Rights pamphlet for students
- Equal Rights Advocates’ Ending Harassment Now booklet
- The AAUW’s Crossing the Line eBook
- This short video: Confronting Sexual Harassment in School: What Every Student Needs to Know
Should I talk to a lawyer about my teen being sexually harassed?
Sexual harassment can have a significant and negative impact on teens. It can:
- Distract from schoolwork
- Cause grades to slip
- Lead to depression, anxiety, or even self-harm
- Contribute to drug or alcohol abuse
If you have concerns about your teen being sexually harassed at school or work, reach out to us for a review your sexual harassment case. We will explain your legal rights and facilitate any legal avenues you and your family decide to pursue. Also, we know it is difficult to see your child in such a situation, but we urge you to discuss your case with a lawyer prior to your child quitting his or her job if the harassment is occurring at work.
Contact Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. for a free consultation with a Cincinnati sexual harassment lawyer at 513-665-9500.