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  • Teachers’ Perception of Sexual Harassment

    We’ve all seen the movie about the beautiful young student who seduces the teacher, or was it the teacher who charms the student? Regardless of the storyline, the notion of sexual dealings between student and teacher, although unacceptable, is conceivable and widely recognized. However, an issue that is not contemplated as frequently is teachers’ perception of sexual dealings, namely sexual harassment, between students. Sexual harassment has been defined by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” and there is definitely a link between sexual harassment that is perpetrated or witnessed by school personnel and sexual harassment that occurs between students.

    Personnel perpetrated and tolerated sexual harassment has been proven to result in an increase in peer to peer sexual misconduct. The reason being that when a faculty member is found guilty of sexually harassing a student, but suffers minimal, or no consequences, the assumption is created that peers can engage in similar behavior and receive the same lax treatment. Further, the fact that personnel have been found to minimize or dismiss the reality of sexual harassment in schools, tends to reinforce students’ beliefs that sexual harassment is normal or inconsequential. This belief, while widely held, is in fact flawed, and any student who has been subjected to sexual harassment should consult a sexual harassment lawyer in Orange County.

    In 1993, a study conducted by the AAUW revealed that students find teachers to be generally unresponsive and ignorant to complaints and incidents of sexual harassment, and over the past two decades, these findings have been corroborated. In fact, in her new book “Pervasive Vulnerabilities: Sexual Harassment in School, Regina Rahimi, an assistant professor in the Department of Adolescent and Adult Learning at Georgia Southern University, spoke with teachers, who had been in the profession for at least five years, to determine how they perceived sexual harassment on school grounds. Unfortunately, the findings demonstrated that the teachers typically blamed the female students for the harassment suffered, or they refused to acknowledge that there was a problem at all. Some of the teachers who were interviewed even made racist remarks and attributed the harassment to the way the girls dressed and presented themselves to others.

    Another survey, designed to exam faculty members’ attitudes toward, and responses to, sexual harassment, suggested that the teachers did not tolerate sexual harassment, particularly the more egregious kind. The results also indicated that the surveyed teachers would take efforts to stop inappropriate conduct when it happened; however, there was no mention of preventing sexual harassment before it occurred. Further, the study, which involved two hundred and seventy respondents, suggested that, overall, adult personnel are not doing enough eliminate student peer on peer sexual harassment.

    Rahimi notes the importance that today’s teachers and administrators play in eliminating the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in schools, especially since funding issues have resulted in the abolition of many school counselor positions. Also, since teachers have been deemed more responsive to safety issues, including peer on peer violence and bullying, it is critical that they are reminded or informed that sexual harassment is indeed a form of bullying. Therefore, instances of sexual harassment on school grounds, and elsewhere, should be immediately handled and prevented if possible. In order to enable their learning experiences, students should be made to feel safe and comfortable, and it should be the school personnel’s responsibility to ensure that a harassment free environment is created and maintained. To learn how to prevent and deal with sexual harassment, school faculty can visit a sexual harassment lawyer in Orange County who may counsel them about implementing and enforcing an anti-harassment policy.