Editorial: More should be done to prevent sexual harassment

The ECHO defines sexual harassment as verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct that is sexual in manner and is non-consensual/unwelcome. Sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment.

The ECHO condemns any and all conduct of this nature.

A majority of sexual harassers are male. For this article, the focus is on that majority.

The recent national exposure of sexual harassers has revealed a problem. The ECHO wants to help prevent occurrences of sexual harassment by this generation and future generations.

The problem WGHS faces regarding sexual assault is in part due to the lack of education students receive on how to handle cases of harassment and assault.

In seventh grade, students are introduced to the concept of sexual harassment through a curriculum known as “Flirting or Hurting.” This curriculum is unhelpful, unproductive and tone-deaf. It has became a joke and a medium for the sexual harassment to become daft rather than serious.

Senior Adele Pohl endured sexual assault and abuse her sophomore year and is appalled some students refuse to acknowledge the reality behind sexual assault. Pohl thinks it’s partly the school’s responsibility to reinforce that sexual assault is “not a joke. It happens to people.”

The ECHO recommends a more conducive program which includes real stories/people and a thorough explanation of consent and the impact of sexual actions.

“Tea Consent” is a video that provides an entertaining but informative analogy for consent, which the ECHO recommends to be included in the curriculum. Also, it should be made clear these commonly heard phrases are never meaningful or appropriate excuses for any conduct: “It’s just locker room talk,” “Boys will be boys,” and “She was asking for it.”

Pohl agrees with this and thinks this goes for any “jokes” regarding assault and rape that are made over the internet.

Administrators encourage students who have encountered sexual assault to meet with them. Assistant principal Dr. Angela Thompson assures students cases of sexual assault will be handled with the utmost of care and Webster takes “reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault very seriously here. We (the school) investigate, include our school resource officer, follow through with conversations and supports, and discipline in accordance with building and district discipline codes and policies.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “approximately one in five female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.”

Students can help prevent sexual harassment by having conversation(s) with their partner about boundaries. How to conduct conversations such as these should be taught to students each year by administrators and/or school counselors.

Senior Sammie Weber was assaulted the end of her junior year. She believes, “Speaking out can prevent future assaults.”

The ECHO agrees, both that survivors of harassment and assault benefit others by sharing their stories and seeking help, and that speaking to a sexual partner and confirming consent is essential before participating in sexual conduct. If anything could affect the ability of one of the participants to make an informed decision, there shouldn’t be any sexual conduct. In other words, a response that does not express complete compliance to sexual conduct should treated as a “No.”

Sexual harassment is never the fault of the victim.

Women should know their limits and talk to a trusted individual other than their partner about their limits. Part of women knowing their own limits requires proper education on the matter, and proper support and reinforcements regarding acknowledgement of their worth and rights.

Everyone should watch for any indication of unwelcome sexual behavior of their male friends and be able to confront them or tell someone who can confront them for the safety of all concerned.

The ECHO recognizes the fear and anxiety of victims which leads them to not report their experiences or get help.

WGHS should make it as easy as possible to get help. Weber would “encourage anyone who finds themselves uncomfortable through written, verbal or physical behavior to speak out.”

Friends of victims should talk to the school about helping the victims without revealing their names and preventing the harasser from victimizing others, if the victims have any reason, rational or irrational, to not ask for help from the school.

If a friend of a victim approaches the school, the school shouldn’t press for the identity of victim. The school’s available resources should be made clear. The school does offer a “Safe School Hotline,” which Weber called shortly after her assault, and she later spoke with staff and the school resource officer.
Teachers should also address their availability as resources if any students need someone to confide in. Students shouldn’t feel restricted to only going to counselors or administrators; if a student feels close to a teacher, or is trying to help a friend who is close to one, he or she should be able to talk to that adult with the same conditions of confidence as with the counselors or administration.

Thompson urges students to “please continue to seek out the administrators.”

The St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center provides assistance to victims of sexual assault in the St. Louis metro area.

While the organization provides counseling services, emergency room assistance, a 24-hour crisis hotline and support groups, these are often unknown to students. Administrators offer these resources to students, but the fact they aren’t known proves students don’t hear about them or sexual harassment as a whole far enough.

Pohl was unaware of the resources available to her before her assault and wishes she would have been more educated about what to do during and after her situation.

Any critiques on how administration handles cases of sexual harassment and assault are welcome. Although students aren’t always happy with the consequences the assailant may face, the school has limited power regarding what it can and can’t do, according to Thompson. She reminds students that even if they do not see the consequences they desire, it does not mean the school is unaware, uninterested or finished working with the student’s case; administration will meet with them and help them in whatever way they need in whatever way they can.

See more: Students, staff recognize sexism at WGHS

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