How to Talk to Your Students about Harassment

Students and families across the nation are facing the life-altering impact of sexual harassment and assault in schools. It’s a disturbing trend occurring in our nation, in our children’s schools, and on our college campuses.

The abuse involves both adult-on-student and student-on-student circumstances, and it doesn’t always occur on school grounds. Sexual harassment or assault has occurred on field trips, after school, and in driver’s education vehicles.

recent study shows girls are more likely than boys to be sexually harassed through unwelcome jokes, comments, or gestures; to be called gay/lesbian in a negative context; and to receive unwelcome sexual comments or pictures. These harassments affect kids’ school involvement; some quit an activity or sport, and some change their routines at school to avoid their harassers.

As a teacher, how can you help your students, and how do you open the conversation with them about this difficult subject? Continue reading for ideas on what to cover in your classroom.

The Definition of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome or unwanted sexual behavior that impedes a person’s right to study, learn, work, or perform their various activities. The unwelcome advances or touching leaves a person feeling scared, embarrassed, trapped, and confused.

Review this definition with your students, and explain that sexual notes or pictures, pinching, touching, grabbing, suggestive or sexual gestures, or spreading sexual rumors are types of sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment and Social Media

Social media may be a great place to increase your student’s learning while they’re away from the classroom, but it’s also made them vulnerable to school-based sexual harassment at home. For example, platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook give students the ability to send sexual photos or comments to other students on or off school grounds.

An analysis of nearly 500 girls ranging from 12 to 18 years old found that over two-thirds had been asked for naked photos. You may have discussed with your students the dangers of giving out personal information online to strangers, but you should also discuss the consequences of sending sexual messages or nude pictures to anyone.

How to Stand against Sexual Harassment

Students need to understand that the only way sexual harassment or assault can stop is to report incidents to trusted adults. As young people, they need support from their family, friends, and professionals who can help them overcome the negative events that have happened to them.

Remind your students it’s normal to feel afraid to report sexual harassment or assault, but keeping silent only helps the abuse continue. Reaching out for love and support can help victims heal, and it helps stop the harasser.

What Students Should Do If They’re Being Harassed

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in schools and school programs or activities. As mentioned above, however, this kind of harassment still occurs on elementary, secondary, and postsecondary school properties and many people don’t report these incidents—80% of female college coeds do not report sexual assault. As a teacher, you can open dialogue, educate your students, and be a resource to victims regardless of their age.

Tell your students you can advocate for them if they experience unwelcome sexual behavior from someone. You can also teach them the following five steps so they know what to do if they’re ever harassed.

  1. Tell the Harasser to Stop the Unwelcome Behavior

If the student feels comfortable, they should tell the harasser that their behavior needs to stop. It’s okay if this step is difficult and they feel like they can’t confront the harasser.

  1. Talk to a Trusted Adult about the Harassment

Telling a trusted adult, such as a parent, a teacher, or a counselor, gives students support and also helps in the future if witnesses or testimony are needed. The recent #MeToo campaign is a great example of how talking to someone about sexual abuse or harassment can raise awareness, help victims heal, and prevent future incidents.

  1. Write Down Details about the Encounter

After the uncomfortable event, students should try to record what occurred, when it happened and where, and who was there. They should also document their feelings and save any texts, messages, pictures, or other items sent to them from the harasser.

  1. Report the Incident to School Administration

Students can go with their parents to talk to the school administrator assigned to handle reports of sexual harassment or assault. If they aren’t comfortable doing that, they can speak to you or another teacher they trust who can report the incident to an admin.

  1. Remind the Student It’s Not Their Fault and They’re Not Alone

Someone experiences sexual assault in America every 98 seconds. Student’s aren’t alone, and what happened to them isn’t their fault. They can take advantage of resources and support as they work through this trauma.

When it comes to sexual harassment or assault, once is too often. Schools have policies against harassment and assault, and it’s their job to prevent it, investigate complaints, and take prompt action. Let your students know you are a trusted resource. Urge them to speak to you if they’re comfortable, and tell them you will listen without judgment if they come to you to report sexual harassment or assault.

Children and young adults should be able to learn without disruption and feel safe while they’re at school. Use these tips to better approach this topic in your classroom, and read more on this blog to stay informed so you can help your students.

Massiel Ramirez graduated from Utah State University in Marketing and Business Administration. In addition to education, she enjoys writing about technology, social media, and business. Follow her on Twitter @massielmarier, she’d love to hear from you!