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My five-year-old daughter started kindergarten ten weeks ago.  She is excited, happy, and reasonably well-adjusted to life at our neighborhood public school.  Yet, she recently confided in me that she “pretends not to look” at the third grade classroom door of a student who has teased her on the playground.   She reasoned that if she does not look at that door, the student may leave her alone. 

Unfortunately, no matter which survival tactic kids employ – from avoiding certain classrooms or hallways, to switching schools, or deciding to stop attending school altogether –  harassment and bullying is impacting more students more seriously than ever before.  According to a report issued yesterday by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Crossing the Line:  Sexual Harassment at School,” 48% of the junior high and high school students surveyed in a nationally representative sample reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment at school during the 2010-11 school year.  Each day, kids are subjected to unwelcome sexual jokes or damaging rumors.  They are called lesbian or gay in a negative way or taunted because they do not conform to gender stereotypes.  They are flashed, shown sexual pictures, physically intimidated, forced to do something sexual, and assaulted.  By the time they reach college, one in four women report surviving rape or attempted rape.   If kids manage to avoid certain physical locations, they are harassed and/or bullied via texts, Facebook, and other electronic communications. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  To comply with this federal law, schools are supposed to be taking affirmative steps to prevent and immediately remedy discrimination based on sex in their educational programs.  This means that schools are supposed to have Title IX compliance officers, clear policies prohibiting harassment that are communicated to students and teachers and coaches, and effective measures to promptly address discrimination complaints. 

Yet, something is clearly amiss.  AAUW’s findings are consistent with calls received by Equal Rights Advocates on our national hotline from students across the country.  Sadly, a school’s failure to adequately address harassment now empowers bullies to be even worse in the workplace later.   Sexual harassment is the single most prevalent complaint received by ERA on its hotline from students and workers alike.   In 2011, nearly 80% of all education calls to ERA related to sexual harassment complaints.  

Similarly, sexual harassment complaints comprised just over 50% of all the ERA calls received by workers across the country, far outnumbering complaints about wage violations, family medical leave issues, and other forms of discrimination in hiring, promotion and other employment conditions. 

ERA’s Education Equity Campaign is committed to addressing this siege of our schools.  Through our Know Your Rights training, interventions with schools, and impact litigation when necessary, we are enforcing the state and federal laws that are supposed to protect our kids. 

If you or someone you know needs assistance with sexual harassment, gender-based bullying, or other forms of discrimination at schools or in the workplace, please contact our free Advice and Counseling line at 1-800-839-4372.


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