"When no boys are in the classroom girls take part more. They answer more questions, and they argue more. I guess you would say they debate more, but I remember the same situation happening when boys were in the class and a couple of them yelled out "Cat Fight!" The girls got angry, and they stopped debating."
Boarding School Guides:
Teaching Young Women About Sexual Harassment
"I thought it was normal for boys to make me brush past them by not parting when I'd go through the halls. I wasn't sure if that was someone touching me in the crowded lunchroom or they had accidentally bumped into me. I never thought a boy would just reach out and grab my breast. The first time one did I was so embarrassed, I just pretended like it didn't happen. I didn't want to make a scene."
Helping Your Daughter Handle Sexual Harassment
Some years ago a little girl asked Jonathan Prevette, a boy in her first grade class in Lexington, North Carolina , to kiss her on the cheek. When Jonathan complied, his teacher sent him to the principal who suspended him for sexual harassment. The Jonathan Prevette case made headlines around the world as an example of American political correctness gone berserk. As for Jonathan, he didn’t really understand the charges against him, and was upset only because he missed an ice cream party at school.
The Prevette case was silly. On the other hand, the case of fifth grader LaShonna Davis was far from silly. The Davis case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and set the standard for sexual harassment cases in schools.
Parents of daughters should understand that sexual harassment is a legal matter, and that the law is on the side of the victim. Schools have a responsibility to stop any sexual harassment of students.
LaShonna Davis was an outgoing, fun-loving child who enjoyed school until a fellow fifth grader began abusing her. He would touch her breasts and genitals, and make lewd remarks throughout the day. LaShonna’s mother went to the school on a number of occasions, and repeatedly asked her daughter’s teacher and principal to discipline the boy and move LaShonna’s seat away from her abuser. The school did nothing for months. Meanwhile LaShonna grew moody and suicidal.
Her mother sued the school under Title IX Act of the Constitution, alleging that her daughter was losing her right to public education because of a form of sexual discrimination. The Supreme Court agreed but put limits on a student’s right to sue a school or school district -- thus protecting students against extreme harassment and protecting the schools against frivolous lawsuits.
In her majority ruling in Aurelia Davis v. Monroe County (Georgia) Board of Education, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor described sexual harassment as "severe, pervasive, objectively offensive," and disruptive enough to keep a student from the equal educational opportunities guaranteed by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Keep in mind the Prevette and Davis cases when you think about sexual harassment. Your daughter should be able to handle the normal playground incidents of childhood, but she should not be expected to learn in an environment of serious and on-going sexual harassment. Unfortunately, according to a major 2004 study by The American Association of University Women, 83% of girls have experienced harassment at school. Some of it is physical harassment, such as forced kissing or having clothes pulled off. The girls reported that most of the time, such harassment occurred in front of teachers.
Under Title IX laws, if your daughter attends a public school or a private school that receives public funds, the school must have a formal policy of dealing with sexual harassment. This means there must be a formal way to file a complaint, and a formal way for the school to settle the problem. If your daughter is afraid of her harasser, then the school must solve that problem too.
Your daughter is operating in a cruder environment of language, movies, television shows, music and clothing than the one of your teenage years. That does not mean your daughter has to tolerate sexual harassment in the forms of comments, graffiti, or physical touching.
To determine if you have a formal sexual harassment complaint, consider these questions.
- Is the harassment unwelcome? “Unwelcome” is a major word in Title IX law. Harassment can be unwelcome even if the victim has not asked the harasser to stop. Victims are often too afraid to speak up.
- Is the harassment ongoing? Your daughter may have to endure one-time incidents. But she does not have to endure daily and on-going lewd comments and physical touching, which create what Title IX law calls a “hostile environment.” The law recognizes that your daughter can’t be educated in a hostile environment.
- Is the harassment coming from an adult? You have the right to complain about teachers and staff as well as students. A 2003 study of sexual harassment in high schools found that adult school employees did 27 percent of sexual harassment of students, with teachers making up 81 percent of that group.
- Is the staff at your daughter’s school ignoring her plea for help? If so, it may be time to consult a lawyer. Katy Lyle, the plaintiff in Lyle v. Independent School District 709, was a sophomore at Duluth Central High School in Duluth, Minnesota . She began to notice strange behavior from her classmates such as boys snickering or girls shunning her. Finally a friend told her that graffiti in the boys’ bathroom referred to her as a “slut,” with pornographic references to dogs, farm animals, and to Katy having sex with her brother. Her parents complained repeatedly to the school principal, but the graffiti stayed on the wall for 16 months -- 16 months of agony for Katy. Her parents filed suit, and won a settlement from the Duluth school board.
For a complete copy of the laws of Title IX sexual harassment, go to United States Office of Education website at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/sexhar00.html
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