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Sexual Harassment happens too frequently and is only rising at alarming rates in the K-12 educational environment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harrassement as “unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harrassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of sexual nature.” Frequently, courts interpret sexual harrassement as a form of gender based discrimination. The victim of sexual harassment  can be a female or man. While the exact facts of sexual harassment often differ from case to case, the critical aspect is that the conduct is sexual in nature, and unwanted. 

Examples of Sexual Harassment:

  • Forms of sexual assault ( groping or touching) 

  • Sexually suggestive gesturing 

  • Sexual jeers, jokes, and rumours 

  • Requesting sexual favors

  • Uninvited sexual discussions, messages, emails, pictures 

  • Harassment through rumors or jokes based on sexual acts or orientation 

  • Pressure to engage sexually

  • Indecent Exposure 

  • Unwelcome sexual advances and requests 

  • Conditions of education based on sexual favors 

  • Make one feel uncomfortable through sexual 

  • Catcalling 

  • Stalking 

  • Public humiliation 

Sexual Harassment & Gender Discrimination: Programs

Sexual Harassments in the K-12 Setting

I n a 2017 report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which is an organization that advocates for the rights of girls and women. Explains that they and many other advocacy organizations believe the school systems are underreporting or not even reporting sexual harassment that is occuring to girls and boys in K-12 schools. They found this information from the 2013-2014, Civil Rights Data Collection which indicated that 79% of public schools all over the country have zero instances or reports of sexual harassment or misconduct allegations. The AAUW finds this statistically impossible. The AAUW says that they don’t even find this is an accurate number because of how unreported sexual misconduct and harassment is by public school systems. 

The AAUW did their own studies and found that nearly 50% of students from 7-12 grade report enduring sexual harassment. Despite this astronomical number, 79% of public schools all over the country have no documented instances of sexual harassment. The fact that nearly 50% of 7-12 graders endure sexual harassment but there is lacking documentation of these schools taking response is absolutely shocking. 

In another recent study in 2014, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found in a small sample pool of middle schools, 21% of middle schoolers reported they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual or physical contact on school grounds. 

Each year the Department of Education is receiving more complaints of sexual harassment and violence. Renown K-12 sexual harassment and assault attorney, Cari Simon’s said to the Washington Post when addressing the rise of complaints , “In the K-12 cases, I have seen a lot of complete incompetence, a complete lack of even knowing they have responsibility.” Schools have responsibilities to protect children. 

What Is Title IX? 

It is clear that sexual harassment in K-12 schools has been a long standing issue but it remains one that is continuously pushed underneath the rug, leaving children with not much recourse. 

All K-12 students are protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972-- “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Under Title IX schools have a fiduciary responsibility to fix hostile environments and the failure to do so could have the implications of the school losing federal funds according to Know Your IX.  Schools are obligated to ensure that you or your child has a safe education free of sexual harassment and retaliation. 

If a school is not following your child or your Title IX rights by not trying to remedy the hostile environment or retaliating against you for reporting the harassment, please see our page about Title IX and Office of Civil Rights Complaints. In addition, since Title IX is a federal statute, there is civil recourse as well. 

Understanding Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault: 

Often there are a lot of parallels to sexual harassment and sexual assault. RAINN explains that sexual assault there is generally a criminal law breeched wheras sexual harassment there is recourse through civil laws. Sexual assault is when unwanted sexual and physical contact occurs. 

  • Rape (Vaginally or Anally) 

  • Attempted Rape 

  • Forcing sexual acts such as oral sex or digital penetration 

  • Groping, fondling, or any unwanted sexual contact 

Effects of Sexual Harassment: 

Physical Effects Including: 

  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or nightmares 

  • Fatigue 

  • Malaise 

  • Panic reactions (panic attacks, phobias) 

  • Headaches 

  • Skin reactions 

  • Gastrointestinal issues (such as upset stomach, nausea) 

Psychological Effects: 

  • Anxiety 

  • Panic Attacks 

  • Depression 

  • PTSD 

  • Anger 

  • Fear 

  • Guilt 

  • Irritation 

  • Shame 

  • Embarrassment 

  • Low self-esteem 

  • Feeling out of control 

  • Suicidal Ideation 

  • Loss of Motivation 

  • Substance Abuse 

Impact on Education: 

  • Being absent from school 

  • Withdrawing from school work 

  • Difficulty Concentrating 

  • Lower grades 

  • Ostracization from peers and the school community 

Source: Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention and American Psychological Association 

What To Do If A School is Not Protecting Your Title IX Rights: 

First, it is important that your report the sexual harassment to the institution. Make sure your child’s educators, teachers, and administrators are all aware of what is occurring. Talk to your child about a plan of what to do if they feel unsafe while at school, whether that be that they tell a safe adult right away including an educator, administrator, or you. Stopping the harassment needs to be done in a timely manner and it cannot keep occurring otherwise there is the potential to further harm or traumatize your child.

Second, document and keep everything. For example, if sexual harassment is happening by text messages or social media, keep proof indicating what is occurring and being said. Another example, would be to send emails to your child’s school documenting the extent of what is occurring. Make it clear what is happening and there needs to be a timely end to it. 

Third, if a school is not taking necessary action, it is time to report the school to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Your child should not be subjected to an unsafe or threatening education. Please see more on our Title IX page.

Sexual Harassment & Gender Discrimination: Text
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