OUSD girls report pervasive, unchecked sexual harassment at school

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 2, 2016

When CEOs, spiritual leaders, and even the dean of a major law school are in the news for being accused of sexual harassment, you may well wonder how they got so far in their careers without being challenged for their inappropriate behavior. After all, workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination were prohibited by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Why hadn’t they got the message?

One reason may be that schools aren’t teaching and enforcing appropriate behavioral norms among young people. As we discussed in our Sept. 1 post, California law now requires all middle and high school students to be educated about sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment. The idea is to cultivate respectful gender attitudes and the ability to behave collaboratively with others.

Young people must know how to behave appropriately at work. According to a recent study of the Oakland Unified School District, however, sexual harassment is pervasive and often left unchecked by teachers and administrators.

Many Oakland girls report sexual harassment as their No. 1 problem at school

The report, “Valuing Girls’ Voices: Lived Experiences of Girls of Color in Oakland Unified School District,” was developed for the OUSD by the nonprofit coalition Alliance for Girls. Researchers interviewed groups of girls in elementary, middle and high schools across the OUSD. Their goal was to gather the students’ own perceptions of what problems stand in the way of their educational success. For many girls, sexual harassment was the No. 1 issue.

Many girls reported experiencing substantial, persistent sexual harassment, including having sexualized and disparaging comments directed at them; being called “bitches,” “hos” or “sluts”; being pinched or slapped on the behind; and fending off unwanted sexual advances.

In any workplace, slapping the rear end of a passing female coworker would be inappropriate and could even be considered assault. Nevertheless, girls at one school reported an unofficial tradition called “Slap-Ass Fridays,” which was well known to school officials but left unchallenged.

The girls said that teachers and school administrators simply ignore sexually inappropriate behavior at a number of schools. Moreover, far too many girls reported that teachers and school officials actively make excuses for misbehaving boys, such as saying that “boys can’t control themselves.” Far too often, when girls defend themselves by arguing or fighting, it is the girls who typically end up being punished.

In Oakland and beyond, girls are being harmed every day by gender bias, harassment, and lack of accountability, and the problem needs to be addressed right away. Failing to do so not only undermines girls’ education today but also teaches boys a lack of accountability that won’t serve them well in the future.