Give students methods to end harassment

by Stacey Oparnica

Chances are you’ve experienced or observed sexual harassment before in some way, shape or form. From the college men and women who were polled, the prevalence of sexual harassment was almost identical; 62 percent of college females and 61 percent of college males reported being sexually harassed at their university.
I’m sure there are people who, upon learning this, would shrug off these statistics with a headshake and mutter something about all the parties, the alcohol and the uncontrollable hormones. “College kids,” they would grumble.
Aside from the fact that sexual harassment is not something that can be blamed on anyone or anything except the individuals who were involved, this issue is not limited solely to universities or university students.
Quite the contrary, this unsettling “epidemic” is extremely prevalent in high schools and middle schools as well, according to a national survey by the American Association of University Women.
During last year’s academic year, almost half of the 1,965 students polled in grades 7-12 reported being sexually harassed, either in person or through text, email or social media platform. In-person occurrences included unwelcome sexual jokes or comments toward another person, being called gay or lesbian in a negative way or being touched in an unwelcome sexual manner.
More than one-third of girls and almost one-fourth of boys experienced some form of sexual harassment through electronic means, such as having someone post unwelcome sexual comments about them or having someone spread sexual rumors about them online.
The report concluded, “sexual harassment appears to be a normal, albeit undesirable, part of school.” To make matters worse, very few of those students (only about 9 percent) ever reported the incidents to faculty.
While I realize embarrassment or discomfort may have impacted the decision to keep quiet, the fact that students do not have a way to report sexual harassment anonymously is the biggest factor to consider. I was surprised to learn there wasn’t already a method for students to do so, especially considering how infrequently people report such incidents as is.
Among the solutions that students suggested to combat this problem, creating an anonymous method to report sexual harassment was a top recommendation. In addition, more than a third of students said having a person specially trained to deal with cases of sexual harassment would be extremely beneficial. More than half said sexual harassment policies should be better enforced and those found responsible should be properly punished.
The AAUW report provided a comprehensive list of preventative methods, including organizing informative assemblies and class discussions, providing students with self-defense training and instructing teachers and other faculty members about how to deal with victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment. These are precisely the guidelines we must address and follow in order to strengthen the methods in which we combat this growing problem.
These days, because technology and social media are such an integral part of our daily lives, harassment is easier than ever. Realistically, we’ll never be able to fully eliminate sexual harassment from schools, or anywhere for that matter. But we can do our best to provide students with ample preventative information and adequate services.

—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism junior.