On top of all of the other sensitive topics parents must cover with their children, it seems sexual harassment must be added to the list. Parents may be surprised to learn that sexual harassment is often rampant in schools. Starting as early as middle school, children are teased, taunted or otherwise violated on an alarming scale, leaving many young girls and boys feeling insecure, uncomfortable and sometimes traumatized.
Paula Grieco, a mother and founder of What's Your Brave?, has made it her mission to empower children to courageously follow their dreams while equipping parents to support them in the process. Through the development of this empowerment project, Grieco has heard many firsthand accounts of sexual harassment in schools. She says that sexual harassment has always been a factor in schools, but more people are becoming aware of the problem, causing a trend line to spike. In addition, the young age at which harassment starts and the severity of the harassment can be blamed, in part, on the sexualizing of girls in the media and popular culture. “Listen to music, watch television, walk through a mall, it’s difficult to escape the objectification of girls and young women and this is a dangerous and harmful trend,” she says.
This isn’t a problem exclusively for girls and their parents. “More girls are affected than boys, but boys are also sexually harassed — particularly those boys that are non-gender conforming,” says Grieco. According to Grieco, sexual harassment can take many forms including verbal (unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures), physical (touching girls’ breasts, a boy rubbing his penis against a girl’s buttocks, etc.) or even electronic (via text, email, Facebook, etc.). Parents should address these possible situations in an age-appropriate manner.
Sexual harassment can be a tough topic for parents to tackle but it must be done without minimizing the gravity of the problem. “I feel strongly that parents of boys, in particular, (and I am one) carry the responsibility to raise boys that understand what sexual harassment is, that they alone are responsible for their own behavior, and to create an environment of true gender equality,” says Grieco. “Historically, discussions of sexual harassment and assault have been focused on girls and women being responsible for their own safety. This is important, but we need to also be clear about the seriousness of harassment.” Girls and boys both need to know that school is a place where they should feel safe and protected, not vulnerable and threatened.
Do you want to be proactive about preventing sexual harassment in your child’s school? Great! Grieco provides the following action items to get you started on your worthy mission.
The lasting impact of sexual harassment extends well beyond the actual incident(s). Parents can either hope their child won’t be a victim or can empower their child to speak up against sexual harassment in schools with both words and actions. For more information, visit WhatsYourBrave.com or the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.
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