Admit it: Sexual harassment needs to be addressed

Lily Baldwin

“On a scale of one to ten, how do you rate that girl?”

“Eh, I’d say low seven.”

“Nah, dude. More like a high six.”

This is what junior girl “Veronica” heard one day on her way to the locker room. She could clearly hear the boys making comments about her body as they were standing less than five feet behind her.

Illustration by Christine Watridge
Illustration by Christine Watridge

Sexual harassment is legally defined as catcalling, sending inappropriate pictures to others, asking for such pictures, spreading a sexual rumor about someone, calling someone gay or lesbian in a derogatory way… the list goes on. What “Veronica” experienced, sexualized remarks about her  body, is harassment under U.S. Department of Education guidelines. Sexual harassment often causes much more harm than expected, leaving targets to deal with the lasting effects, such as depression and the inability to feel comfortable in a school setting, according to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (NVAWPRC).

According to Equal Rights Advocates, a student who has been a victim of sexual harassment can experience fear, self-consciousness, embarrassment, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and may have trouble focusing in class due to feeling uncomfortable.

Even a small comment about somebody’s physical appearance or an inappropriate joke can make a student feel uneasy and interfere with their ability to function comfortably in a school setting. Sexual harassment not only affects a victim’s personal peace of mind, but also their education.

The problem of sexual harassment at Redwood needs to be addressed immediately, especially considering the current social climate in the U.S. Victims of sexual harassment and assault are coming forward through campaigns such as ‘Me Too,’ which was sparked by the coverage of the sexual assault victims of producer Harvey Weinstein.

This movement, alongside others, has created an environment that allows victims of sexual harassment to speak about their experiences with others who have dealt with similar issues. However, this accepting and open attitude has evidently not extended to Redwood, as many students remain silent about their experiences with sexual harassment.

While 68 percent of Redwood students self-reported in a November Bark survey that they have not been sexually harassed, 59 percent of students have had experiences at Redwood that constitute sexual harassment by U.S. law.

This means that students are experiencing sexual harassment, but are unaware of what legally constitutes it. Redwood students aren’t being sufficiently educated about what sexual harassment is and its consequences. This is likely due to a lack of education on the topic of sexual harassment that leaves students unaware of what constitutes sexual harassment. It is up to administration and the Wellness Center to change this.

Administration, along with the Wellness Center, needs to take a strong stance against sexual harassment and take initiative to educate students in order to create a safe learning environment where students can feel safe talking about their experiences with trusted adults.

When asked where students would go for support if they were sexually harassed, the majority said they would go to a friend, according to the same Bark survey. Twenty-two percent said they would seek out support from parents. Only six percent of students said they would go to the Wellness Center for help.

The Wellness Center has signs hung up across campus with the welcoming words “Need a space at school to take care of you?” Providing a safe place for students to receive support is arguably the main purpose of the Wellness Center, yet most students would not go there for support if they were being sexually harassed. More students (12 percent) self-reported that they would rather not seek out support at all.

It is the school’s responsibility to provide an environment where students can feel comfortable seeking out help in a situation of harassment of any kind, according to Title IX, a federal law passed to prevent sexual harassment in schools. According to the NVAWPRC, schools that do not provide education on the process of reporting sexual harassment are liable for creating a “hostile environment.”

If administration members were to visit classes to talk about sexual harassment or assemblies were held in which students can hear from speakers who have dealt with this issue, students will feel comfortable seeking out support from trusted adults. Administration can campaign through posters that draw attention to the consequences of sexual harassment. Representatives from Wellness could hold seminars to educate teens about the seriousness of the sexual harassment of fellow students and the effects certain acts can have on adolescents, thereby preventing further growth of a widespread culture of unwelcome sexual comments and judgements. But by not outwardly addressing the problem, the school is allowing the creation of difficult learning environment, and forcing these students to fend for themselves.

With rising support for victims of sexual harassment and assault, along with the ‘Me Too’ movement in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s victims coming forward, Redwood and the Wellness Center have an opportunity to live up to their promises of creating a safe space for students. It’s simply a matter of whether or not they seize this window of opportunity to truly make school a place where students can confidently seek support for sexual harassment.