Harassment in Schools
January 11, 2018
A Dunbar teacher shared an example of harassment she experienced as a teenager. She asked to remain anonymous*.
“My earliest memory of sexual harassment is at my first job in a little local restaurant and bar when I was 15. I was a hostess, and I wore jeans and a uniform t-shirt to work (not that I should have to explain what I was wearing, but I know that’s the first thing people wonder in our victim-blaming culture). I remember every day we had these two regular customers that would make open, sexual comments about my body as I worked, and I was too afraid to report it because they were regulars and the restaurant ‘didn’t want to lose their business.’ These were ‘good’ men–professionals, fathers of children not much younger than I was, church-goers. They ‘didn’t mean anything by it’ and were ‘just joking’, but none of that changed the fact that their comments made me absolutely ashamed of my body and made me dread going to work most days,” she said.
The unfortunate reality is that sexual harassment is a result of our culture and societal expectations. As a result, they do not disappear when a student walks through the doors of a school building. It’s also, arguably, a problem that seems to primarily affect females.
“People tell girls to ‘just let it go’ and ‘boys will be boys,’ so they shouldn’t think anything of it, but the truth is the fear and insecurity that sexual harassment causes follows women into adulthood and affects every aspect of their lives,” the anonymous teacher said.
Junior Hannah Broomhall is one such student who has experienced harassment in an academic setting.
“I was leaving rehearsal, and there was a group of guys in the music hallway. It was late and I was the only one out there. One of them shouted, ‘Damn, girl, you got a man?’ I replied with a quick ‘Yes,’ and I walked away as fast as possible, eyes glued to the floor. Then, one of the other people in the group made a comment about my butt, and all his friends laughed,” she said.
Broomhall’s experience is a classic example of catcalling. Catcalling is defined as “a loud, sexually suggestive call or comment directed at someone publicly” and is not only offensive, but also illegal in many parts of the world, including New York, according to the Washington Post.
Ms. Andrea Tinsley, associate principal at Dunbar, said that she sees many reports of harassment via the school’s anonymous tipline.
“We never discount what anybody says,” she said. “We take all allegations of bullying and harassment very seriously.”
In the student handbook, instances of bullying can result in a warning, a referral to the school’s behavior coach, or more depending on the severity. When administrators handle this type of case, they also call parents to explain the situation.
“We handle every situation,” said Ms. Betsy Rains, head principal. “No matter what.”
But this only works if the harassment is reported. As with many cases, Broomhall chose not to report her experience to school authorities, so no action was taken on her behalf.
If students do speak up, they often receive negative feedback from their peers.
“I remember a couple of years ago I was sitting in class and this boy kept making sexual slurs and gestures towards me. It got to the point where I, for some reason, felt ashamed and embarrassed,” said an anonymous Dunbar student. “I eventually told my parents and they told the school. The boy ended up switching classes, but everyone thought that I was a snitch because I told on him.”
Another student who asked to remain anonymous shared her story of the type of sexual harassment she experiences this year as a student aide. She said that she did not report this harassment for fear of not being believed, or being accused of “deserving it.”
“I run a lot of errands, so I walk around a lot and because of that I get harassed a lot. I’ve had guys chase me down the hallway to ask me out or to say something about my body,” she said. “Once, I entered a classroom and this guy came up to me and asked if I was single and when I said no… he stood in front of me to try and give me his number. He wouldn’t let me leave until, finally, the teacher looked up.”
For many, another hurdle to reporting harassment is that those who witness the harassment do nothing to intervene. This is called the “bystander effect.” The same student recounted another incident she experienced in which she was harassed in front of others who did nothing to assist her.
“Another time I was walking down the hallway to class from the bathroom, and a guy yelled ‘hey mommy’ and he touched his penis,” she said. “There were girls around, and instead of speaking up for me, they just laughed.”