Many schools just not doing enough to ID, combat sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 10, 2016

“It’s a shame you have to pull that card,” says an educational psychology profess who materially contributed to a study published earlier this year addressing sexual harassment in the nation’s middle schools.

The “card” that Dorothy Espelage is referring to equates to punitive action taken by the U.S. Department of Education against schools that are seen as lax in identifying and responding promptly and appropriately to sexual harassment targeting young students.

Administrators and teachers at many schools across the country are simply not adequately trained and prepared to make determinations that contrast between acts of bullying and discriminatory sexual harassment. It is unfortunate, says Espelage, that the DOE needs to use the hammer of potentially reduced federal funding to render them sufficiently proactive.

Anti-harassment advocates note myriad other concerns in addition to that, with Espelage’s study — a survey of close to 1,400 middle school respondents — pointing to disturbing findings that sorely need to be addressed.

Espelage calls the bottom-line conclusions that emerge from the university-sponsored research “very, very concerning.” Among other things, they include these findings:

  • More than one in five students said they were victims of harassment
  • Although physical acts are common, so too are rumor spreading and homophobic references
  • Much inappropriate behavior occurs right in the classroom
  • Although targeted students obviously feel uncomfortable, many of them seem to have a fatalistic — even “dismissive” — attitude about being on the receiving end of harassing behaviors

Espelage says that many children don’t know what the boundaries regarding sexual harassment are, or even how — or whether — they should be expressing and reporting hurtful conduct.

And that leads back to school officials, who Espelage says need to do far more than “just putting a sexual harassment policy in a handbook.”