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At less than a year old, you are a bit young to hear this message. The immediate learning challenges ahead of you include walking and talking.  But this is one of those topics that there is never really a good time to discuss. While I hope you never experience this, forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.  The topic is harassment and violence, particularly against females.

Harassment starts young. We usually call it bullying, when referring to school children.  Is bullying the root of harassment among adults?

A recently released survey from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, concludes that sexual harassment is commonplace in middle and high schools. Nearly half the students experienced some form of sexual harassment during the recent school year, with girls more likely than boys to be sexually harassed.  Technology has extended the reach with texting, e-mail, and Facebook as relatively new ways to contact and attack others.

More than half of students have viewed sexual harassment of others. Seeing is not as bad as being the target, but it makes school feel less safe. Witnessing sexual harassment in school may also make it seem like normal behavior.

So, what is harassment? It can be a case of “I’ll know it when I experience it,” and may run the gamut from teasing to physical contact. But what the instigator calls teasing, can feel like an attack to the person on the receiving end. Harassment is a form of hostility—sometimes subtle and other times blatant.

Verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature may be sexual harassment, if the behavior is unwelcome. Unwelcome is the critical word. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, often includes offensive remarks about a person’s gender.

It seems like no one is exempt from being harassed and anyone is potentially the harasser. You only need to pay attention to news reports to sense that there is a problem. And these are just the reported cases…  It’s almost impossible to be oblivious to the sexual misdeeds by clergy, politicians, coaches, and heads of international agencies reported in the news.

My friend, Sylvia, spent a career in the military. She mentioned instances as a senior officer, working for bosses who seemed to view women as second rate.  Even when she worked as hard or harder and knew as much or more than her male colleagues, there were times that she didn’t feel respected.

There are laws that a supposed to protect against workplace sexual harassment from a boss, co-workers, or customers. But even after all of these years with high profile discussions and education programs, sexual harassment, which can affect either men or women still, is sadly alive and well today.  I can only hope that tomorrow will be different.

The Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation report, From Gen Y Women to Employers: What They Want in the Workplace and Why it Matters for Business, lists the most prevalent forms of gender discrimination seen by young working women: Stereotyping (63%), Unequal compensation (60%), Not being treated as an equal (58%), Inequality of opportunities (52%), Being held to a different standard (51%), and Sexist jokes and derogatory statements about women (38%). Gender and age may have a compounding effect, where someone who is older is more apt to experience discrimination.

So, what can you do if you encounter a situation of sexual harassment? Say “no” clearly when you encounter a behavior that feels inappropriate. It may be something that you just sense is “not quite right”. Honor your intuition. Second, report the encounter to a trusted person like your parents or a teacher. This is not a secret to keep to yourself, even if it feels scary or embarrassing to talk about. Let others help you decide what to do. Being prepared will make you more confident.

Well, I’m sorry to say that for all the strides women have made, that there is still an issue with gender discrimination. At this time of your in life, when you don’t even know about the difference between boys and girls, our intention is to raise you to think girls can do anything they want, while still trying to make the world more equitable for all.




Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Read other blogs on sexual harassment, violence against women and gender discrimination on HERvotes.

Cross posted from Young Women Misbehavin' blog.

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