Schools are supposed to be safe havens for students of all ages. Unfortunately for some, they have become places where they are sexually harassed and assaulted. The #MeToo social media campaign for women included many incidences from current and former students who have been victimized in a school setting. The purpose of the #MeToo campaign is to empower women and remind them that they should not be embarrassed to share their stories. Many adults noted that they still felt guilty about not reporting the events when they happened. They worry that they gave more power to their perpetrator to hurt additional victims.
Open Dialogue with Students
A quick and easy way to help students with this difficult topic is to open up a dialogue. The #MeToo movement is the perfect starting point. Open this up to any individual in your school. Give students the opportunity to talk about sexual harassment and what it means to them. Have groups which meet during school and after school to allow people to talk with teachers, administrators, and therapists. What do they perceive as the problem and how can the school and adults help?
Health and physical education classes might be another time when small groups of students could gather to talk to people if they wish. Set up slots where they are able to meet and discuss information that they feel is not helping students who are harassed or assaulted. Brainstorm together on what they would like to see to help victims so they can once again feel safe in school.
Look to individuals in your community to come in and talk to students and parents. They may work at health care centers, shelters, and beyond. Police officers may be another option to share information on the rights of victims of sexual harassment and assault. The more information students and families have the more empowered they can be to stop the cycle of abuse.
Create Safe Spaces
In addition to opening up talking points, it is important to set up a safe space for those who are sexually harassed or assaulted to go to. Who is the person in your building who will make time to meet with individuals who need to talk? There needs to be a school social worker or psychologist who will be available for them when they need time.
These students cannot be ignored. If they are it could lead to even more concerns such as depression and potential of suicide. Students need to know that what they say to you will not be shared with others unless they agree. This person is there to listen and help them. In addition to this, the individuals who harassed and hurt these victims may continue to do damage to more people. With time, students may be willing to say the names of those who hurt them and work on bringing justice to the situation.
What has your school or district done to ensure the safety of students who are sexually harassed or assaulted? Please share information which may help others who are setting up new programs in their buildings.