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Crossing The Line: Sexual Harassment in School

Madeline Lee, News Editor

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Flirting is prominent in high school culture as people search for relationships or a way to have fun. However, the line between flirting and harassment can be crossed, even if the person doing the harassment believes it is still flirting. Flirting can take place anywhere, digitally or in person, but so can harassment.

“I was called and texted every hour, even when I didn’t reply,” senior Dorothy Davis said about when she was harassed. “They would follow me around school just to get my attention. That was harassment.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines harassment as “to annoy persistently, or to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct”. This can occur as digital harassment, sexual harassment, or environmental harassment.

“Flirting is when it’s mutual,” senior Chaseton Coleman said. “Harassment is when you keep pressing. If they aren’t responding, if they look nervous, you should stop.”

Consent dictates all actions
New rules in California required that in 2016, schools begin teaching students about sexual harassment and assault in middle school. At present, the current health classes at Parkway Central touch upon the subject, but mainly focus on consent.

“Consent is so important,” Davis said. “Words are consent, nothing else. If you aren’t comfortable, go tell a close friend or a teacher, because you never know what it can turn into.”

Students are taught that the word yes is the only way to give consent, and experts agree. It’s On Us, an organization dedicated to ending sexual assault and rape on college campuses, informs students that the only way to do anything is through consent.

An analogy often used to educate students on consent is eating cake- if someone asks if you want cake, you can say no or yes. Until you say yes, you have not given consent to eat the cake. If they force you to eat cake in any way and you still don’t say you want cake, even if you’re being pressured, then you have not given consent.

Most people can recognize that not having consent means to stop doing something. However, for people who don’t recognize that their actions are harassment can become amplified digitally.

“Flirting has to be both ways,” senior Spencer Hritz said. “It can’t just be one person wanting it, it has to be everyone involved. If that isn’t happening, stop.”

Harassment is stopped by peers, or is ignored
A study conducted by the American Association of University Women concluded that in 2011, 48% of a pool of 2,000 7th-12th graders reported experiencing some form of harassment based on their gender during the school year. The study defines harassment per the Webster definition.

Senior Hope Mueller experienced harassment one summer while she was with her friends. The harassment still took place, and her friends neglected to do anything.

“I was at a summer get-together with some friends, and I met this guy there,” Mueller said. “I was standing on a light pole and he came up next to me. He put his arm around me and wouldn’t let go, and then he made me kiss him. It was uncomfortable and scary.”

Knowing the people that you are with and monitoring your surroundings are something you should always keep in the back of your mind, Mueller and others advise, but you should always be careful. In addition to this, look out for people who may be in an uncomfortable situation themselves.

“If I see someone being harassed then I tell the [harasser] to stop and I get them to walk away,” junior Max Oleksa said. “I’m not afraid to break someone’s nose.”

Forcing someone out of their comfort zone is another example of what some students say is harassment.

“Never try to get someone to do something that they aren’t comfortable with,” sophomore Amber Wright said. “That’s harassment. If they sound irritated, you can tell that they are not happy with what’s happening.”

Body language, vocal cues, and unresponsiveness are ways that establish disinterest in flirtatious actions. This includes laughing out of nervousness or discomfort, physically distancing oneself, not making eye contact, shrinking oneself by curling inwards, and looking around for a distraction so that one can escape the situation.

“If someone’s not interested, then they aren’t interested,” Oleksa said. “Don’t sexually harass people, just don’t.”

Sexual harassment furthers the definition of harassment
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sexual harassment as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)”. This can also be taken as targeting someone of a specific gender, such as females, since they have been falsely, but stereotypically, viewed as subordinate.

“I’ve been catcalled multiple times,” senior Karli Mehrle said. “I felt gross and mad, but I kept walking. I wish I wouldn’t have; I feel like if you’re harassed you should make them feel stupid and call them out on it.”

Catcalling is when an individual is yelled at or made noises at in order to gain their attention, and can often turn sexual with the remarks made. Other examples of sexual harassment is touching someone without their consent, saying provocative or sexual things either in-person or over text, and making sexual comments over social media.

Sexual harassment under any circumstances is not okay, and if it takes place at or involving someone from school, report it to a teacher who will then handle it accordingly. Teachers are advised about handling these situations, and will help handle the situation without drawing attention to it.

“It can happen one time or ten times,” senior Jack Allen said. “Harassment is harassment.”

Harassment victims come forward
Within recent months, many people have come forward to accuse high-profile people of sexual misconduct. This includes stars such as Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, and Danny Masterson.

“People feel ready to come forward,” junior Chayse Williams said. “They feel safe.”

These accusations often look upon the past at incidents that happened months ago. Most of these accusations have resulted in firings, apologies, and to draw themselves away from society.

“Once one person came forward, it motivated others to do so as well,” Williams said.

However, It’s On Us, a campaign to stop sexual assault and rape in colleges, reports that only 20% of 18-24 year olds report assault or rape to law enforcement.

“[When a student experiences something like this] it must be reported,” journalism teacher Christine Stricker said. “Tell a teacher or a counselor.”

Students have many ways to report harassment, such as through emailing a teacher, counselor, or administrator, scheduling a meeting, or just walking into the teacher’s room to report something.

“If you feel uncomfortable, bring a friend,” Davis said. “But you need to report it.”

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Crossing The Line: Sexual Harassment in School