By Charles Hallman
Sexual harassment unfortunately has become common at every state of education and considered a rite of passage for young people. Students are targeted due to their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation in schools from coast to coast, says Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), a New York-based nonprofit organization.
GGE in April released Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets (The Feminist Press, FeministPress.org). Co-written by GGE Founder-Director Joanne Smith, Community Organizing Director Meghan Huppuch and former associate director Mandy Van Deven, the book also include several young females who shared their experiences of being sexually harassed.
The nearly 200-page paperback, which also is a companion to a short documentary of the same name produced by a group of GGE members, is an easy, informative and useful guide for schools, teachers and especially those who are gender-based violence and harassment victims. It provides a glossary, suggestions on how to stop sexual harassment, and a sexual harassment survey.
“I think this book has come at a time when people are looking for answers and strategies around ending [gender-based] violence,” explains Smith, who started GGE in 2001. “[The] one thing that we wanted to get across throughout this process [of writing the book] is that this isn’t an urban issue or a Black issue. This is an issue that affects everyone across the board, across racial lines, across sexual orientations, locally, nationally and internationally. It’s about ending gender-based violence.”
Says Van Deven, “I think it is important to point out that sexual harassment does not happen in the same way in all communities.” She adds it’
s also not just women who are sexually harassed.
“When you are a young boy or young man,” continues Van Deven, “one of the worst things you can be called is a girl. When we talk about gender roles and stereotypes being an issue around gender-based violence, [we are talking about how] the more feminine you are, [the more you are] considered weak and vulnerable, and considered prey.”
“We are interested in dispelling those perceptions”
about sexual harassment, what it means and where it takes place, notes Huppuch.
Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools that receive federal financial assistance, which means virtually every school distinct in the U.S. falls under this law. Every school must have and distribute a policy against sex discrimination, have a Title IX coordinator, and have and make known procedures for students to file complaints of sex discrimination.
“I don’t feel like the federal government has done a really good job in implementing Title IX and making school districts be in compliance. I don’t think they have made that a priority,”
surmises Van Deven.
She, Huppuch and Smith also wrote about inconsistencies New York City school district officials have historically complied with Title IX.
When asked if they believe school officials, especially at the lower levels, fully understand the federal law and how it pertains in dealing with sexual harassment issues, “Short answer, no,” admits Huppuch, “because it is up to the interpretation of the individual school district and school.”
According to a Minneapolis Public Schools spokesperson, the district’
s equity and diversity office serves as Title IX coordinator, and each school is given a month-by-month schedule on implementing the district-wide anti-discrimination, harassment and violence policy during the school year.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a May 13 hearing in Washington, D.C. on peer-to-peer student violence in K-12 schools. The testimonies along with other public comments are expected to be included in a final report for Congress and President Barack Obama in September.
“You don’t have to be an expert to do something about”
sexual harassment, surmises Huppuch.
“I think one of the important things that people need to know is that sexual harassment doesn’t exist on its own,” claims Van Deven. “Sexual harassment exists on a spectrum of gender-based violence, and that spectrum also includes other forms of sexual violence like rape and assault.”
Once people “take ownership” that sexual harassment does exist in our communities, “It is our responsibility to take action against it,” she believes, “even if it is just saying something as a bystander that is important to raise awareness around that.”
One of GGE’s key goals is to train more people to be anti-harassment advocates, says Smith. The organization is a part of the “Move to End Violence” of the NoVo Foundation, which is a 10-year plan to help develop “100 leaders that strategize around ending gender-based violence in the United States,”
“We see everyone having a role in changing or addressing the moral compass of our society,”
For more information about Girls for Gender Equity, call 917-647-3157 or go to www.ggenyc.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.