ever present sexual harassment

Brad Davis.  I still remember his name because he was the kid in high school who could say anything to girls and get away with it. Brad Davis was the guy who cornered me in the library in front of all his friends and asked if I had bowed legs because I’d been having sex with Mr. Reynolds, our science teacher. 

He was the kid who informed Gina Mitchell that she would be giving him a blow job as soon as her braces came off. He was also the older boy who crowded Angela Walker into her locker as he breathed into her face telling her what he was going to do to her when no one was around.

Looking back it seems clear to me that this was sexual harassment.  But as teenagers it never occurred to us to call it that. We knew boys could humiliate you, and make you feel scared and uncomfortable, but doing anything about it was not an option anyone considered.

The way it worked back then was that boys made comments to girls everyday. Your job as a girl was to come up with a quick reply that kept them in their place. It was almost expected that boys would make sexual remarks, and that girls would be able to shrug them off. Only prudes were openly offended.   

Sadly, from what I can tell not much has changed in the last fifteen years. Sexual harassment is still rampant in schools (by some accounts as many as 80% of girls have experienced it!) and people still fail to call it what it is.

A few years ago, I asked a group of girls to define sexual harassment.

"You mean like if your boss won’t give you a job unless you sleep with him?" asked one.

"Yes, that." I explained, "But also like the comments the guys sometimes make, about your body, or when they call girls sluts and ‘hos when you walk down the halls." 

The group was skeptical. "That’s not sexual harassment!" I heard.

"That’s just playing. You know, like flirting."

"Well," I responded, "When a guy makes a comment like that, does it make you feel good or bad?"   

"I don’t know. It’s lame," said one.  "Yeah," added another, "It’s annoying, but it’s not like they’re doing anything. They just don’t know how to flirt."

Now, the boys might not have known how to flirt, but the girls didn’t seem to know how to call them out on bad behavior.  Ignoring harassment can be harmful.  A recent study found that, "Sexual harassment causes more harm than bullying in both boys and girls. Girls and sexual minorities, however, appeared to be the most affected by sexual harassment, suffering from lower self-esteem, poorer mental and physical health, and more trauma symptoms (thoughts and feelings arising from stressful experiences) than boys."

So what can you do? Here are some things to consider:

  • Telling someone to stop bothering you may be all it takes. Sometimes people don’t realize that their behavior is unwanted.
  • If you do decide to confront a harasser, bring a friend or adult along to back you up and to be a witness.
  • Write a letter and keep a copy for yourself (keep in mind the harasser might show this to other people).
  • If confronting a harasser doesn’t work, or if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, talk to school officials or your parents about the situation.
  • Be aware you have the legal right to complain to your school anonymously.
  • Stand up for other people when you see them being harassed. This will help change your school’s atmosphere and make harassment seem less acceptable.
  • When necessary, take legal action.

Remember, the difference between flirting and sexual harassment is that flirting makes you feel good and sexual harassment makes you feel bad. It’s also illegal, and not something you should have to deal with at school, or anywhere else.

Do you have any other tips? Or maybe stories of sexual harassment that’s happened to you?

Photo provided by Holla Back Boston

Posted in: Health, Sex & Relationships, The State of Sex Ed
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  • ImTheOneThatIWant

    I've been a victim of sexual harrassment and so have some of my friends. We usually would just make a comment back to the guys that was insulting, and they'd shut up. These are the teasers.
    The guidelines here to report SH are good, but they don't always work. If you try to bring and adult or a witness with you, out of fear, the sexual harrasser will most likely agree to your conditions.
    However, if you find yourself in private with this person, they'll most likely start up the sexual harrassment again.
    I wish there was something better to do about this, but I think the best suggestion is the very last one.
    "If needed, take legal action."
    I know it's embarrassing and you might feel bad, but trust me, you'll probably feel a whole lot better once you get this issue (and his eyes) off your chest.

  • theres boys out there like that. They flirt in a harrasting way and its just so annoying. I know a few people like dat, wat used to be my next door neighbor. I kept my distance from him and he always used to bother my friends. Just keep ur distance from him, even tho he shows up at random moments, Stay away. And yes, he will use that to blackmail u but hey whatever, just stay away from him.

  • Jessica

    I took a martial arts class for two years before I had an injury that forced me to quit(I'm gonna go back soon again) but guys started looking down my shirt in sixth/seventh grade and started calling me and my friends whores and sluts so I started flicking all the guys in the temple until they backed off. I'm going into eighth grade and I still flick people in the head when they do something or piss me off.

  • claiborne

    I’m in middle school, and sexual harassment at my school is unbelievably common. I’m going into eighth grade, and 6th and 7th were horrible.
    I’m pretty *ahem* “well endowed”(36c), and boys were always trying to look down my shirt. On my ridiculously small bus, eighth grade boys would force the girls to sit on their laps and grab girls’ butts as they tried to get out at their stop.
    None of our teachers took it seriously, and whenever a bus administrator would confront the boys, nothing changed. I’m just glad they’re all gone and in highschool now. I’m surprised none of them got held back, really.

  • claiborne

    I'm in middle school, and sexual harassment at my school is unbelievably common. I'm going into eighth grade, and 6th and 7th were horrible.
    I'm pretty *ahem* "well endowed"(36c), and boys were always trying to look down my shirt. On my ridiculously small bus, eighth grade boys would force the girls to sit on their laps and grab girls' butts as they tried to get out at their stop.
    None of our teachers took it seriously, and whenever a bus administrator would confront the boys, nothing changed. I'm just glad they're all gone and in highschool now. I'm surprised none of them got held back, really.

  • Sara-Bella

    in 6th grade, a boy kept on saying things like that I must wear a pushup bra because there's no way my boobs were big. He also called me a fat ass, even though I wasn't. (I lost alot of weight that year) He said those things all year until I reported it to my homeroom teacher. She took care of it. Then in 7th grade a boy who sat next to me in one of my classes did even more gross things. I also reported him, and he got in trouble, but wasn't suspended. I hope 8th grade is better.

  • Mikaela

    My freshman year I dealt with sexual harrasment from 6 different guys. ALl of them were in one or more of my classes. THey would greab my butt my boobs make comments about my butt or boobs and thighs and how they thought my vagina wuld be big because I had big thighs. I reported all of them to the school principal and administrator and I basically went through hell the entire year trying to get it taken care of. Well toward the end of the year it was still going on and they told me that if it happened again then they would do something. THis really pissed me off y should girls and even guys have to wait until it happens again for them to do anything?? Its just not right. Well nothing e ver got done in my case those 6 guys are still touching and making comments to other girls but they havent messed with me anymore. I am a junior now school hasnt started yet but I ha ve already had to deal with one guy grabbing my butt I reported it immediately to our athletic trainer and football coach ( I am a student athletic trainer with our school fb team) and they quickly took care of it and I havent dealt with him since.

  • Elena

    Ok, answering to Dajana's comment, um… how could you have been raped this year (8.1.08) and already have a one year old baby? it just doesn't make sense, i really don't understand why you would make something like that up (if you did and haven't just made a mistake on the date in which case i'm sorry), if you did make it up, then something isn't right and i think you have to talk to someone… and i'm not being mean, i'm being serious, it's not a normal thing to do. if you did get raped by your "friends" (which i hope you know aren't your friends, and never were, and besides i can't understand WHY you would keep friends like that with what they were saying to you) then it's only natural you would be feeling a bit confused and hurt, but making up something like that is just not right.
    again i am saying this in regard to the date you mentioned, so if i am wrong i apologize.

  • Dasie

    Yeah how do you tell school officals about , anonymously.?! :O
    Plus that would be really akward to tell, would they even do anything about it…?

  • jilliam

    omgsh. . . . the comment below. . . thats soo sad. . . hope all the best for u and your daughter (y)

  • ShiShi

    When i was in 7th grade i was one of the smallest girls in the school, i was average height, 90 lbs and had glasses. I always wore a hat even when my teachers yelled at me for it, i wore large hoodie's so no one noticed how small i was and i could always put my hands in my pockets. I grew up around sexual harrassment so i knew how it felt and i hated it. One day in my Co-ed Gym class we where playing basketball something im good at. My t-shirt was abit small and when i jumped to throw the ball into the hoop one guy yelled out "Hey nice Bra Chris!!!" Another called out "Are you a vigrin? Cuz its black!!" I love the color black and ended up missing the shoot, for the whole year guys walked to me and asked if i would show off my bra and continued to harrass me, i was really shy so i did nothing about it expect make some sarcasic remark about them to make them leave.
    The last week of school i had took up a bet with my best friend that both of us would wear the girliest clothes we had so i wore a short skirt. All day guys cat called me and one even when to his knees and looked up my skirt. I was thankful i was wearing shorts underneath. Finally i got sick of it when someblonde guy walked up and asked to ahve sex with me, saying it be nice to ahve a 'experinced' girl. No one else was in the library as i screamed at him, knee'd him and when he got up he only made another comment so i punched him in the face breaking his nose and part of his jaw, also breaking my hand.
    No one has tried messing with me since and im going into 9th grade. Im really happy i stuck up for myself, cuz no one i knows likes Sexual harrassment.

  • Alexis

    well the same thing happen to me in 8th grade(fresh-man now)This dude name quinton holly keep touch me and everything&he told this one dude to slap mii and he did.i was so pissed off so i slap quinton in the face and i told that one dude`quinton hoe ur ass` but i was really proud of myself for that but now me&him are in high school together but we are not in the clases thank god:)
    he dont mess whit me no more:)
    he a men whore

  • jilliam

    i've been sexually harrased many times starting in grade 8. two boys especially, used to tell me wat they wanted to do to me and grab my ass. they humped me from behind. one even tried getting hard and pushing his "thing" up, hard onto my pants. the other one always tells me that my breasts are perky and they try to hug me really tight to feel my breasts. they go around people saying how i lost my virginity to them (im still a virgin) and they even got their highschool friends to start making remarks and try to talk to me and all that. it kinda bothers me wen they ask me to come in the bathroom to give them head or have sex. they tried puttin condoms in mi back pocket and they tell me about how big my ass is and all that. they do soo much more but im not willing to get into details.