Harassment spurs training

Dec. 18, 2003, midnight | By Karima Tawfik | 17 years, 6 months ago

Despite talks, continued sexual harassment reported

Blair social studies classes took part in discussions about sexual harassment during the week of Nov. 10 in accordance with an MCPS initiative to address the issue, which is prevalent in high schools.

Eighty-three percent of American females in grades eight through 11 have been either verbally or sexually harassed in school, according to a 2001 report by Louis Harris and the American Association of University Women. An informal Silver Chips survey conducted during the week of Nov. 17 revealed that 73 percent of female Blazers say they have been sexually harassed through verbal comments in school, and 38 percent say they have been sexually harassed physically.

Social studies resource teacher Cherie McGinn feels that sexual harassment is "very prevalent" at Blair. She said that the social studies effort helps Blazers cope by "making sure that females know that they don't have to put up with sexual harassment."

In spite of the large number of students who claim to have had some experience with sexual harassment in high school, current suspension reports indicate that only one Blair student was suspended because of sexual harassment during the 2002-2003 school year, and only three students were suspended because of sexual harassment during the 2001-2002 school year.

The low number of sexual harassment suspensions may be due to several factors, according to Assistant Principal Patricia Hurley. Students are not always aware that the administration can take action to stop harassment, and therefore, only a small proportion of harassment cases reach administrators, she said. In addition, the administration does not always feel that all reported sexual harassment situations warrant suspension.

The MCPS Board of Education policy defines sexual harassment as " inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature." Prohibited conduct also includes unwanted grabbing, touching or patting, sexually offensive pictures or jokes, unwanted flirtations or advances and verbal abuse.

Some students have encountered several cases of sexual harassment at Blair. According to senior Sandra Juarez, two males approached her during her sophomore year and grabbed her buttocks; they proceeded to make insinuating comments that left Juarez feeling violated.

A Blair senior said she was sexually harassed last year by a Blair employee working in the cafeteria. "He would always come up and put his arm around me," she said. She also said that the employee would call her "sweetheart" and "baby" and at one point asked her for a photograph of herself.

Some Blazers do not agree that all actions of a sexual nature should be prohibited. "Sexual harassment is unwanted touching, but I wouldn't consider pick-up lines sexual harassment," believes male sophomore McDonald Kpadeh.

A sophomore Blazer said that sexual comments can lead to more serious physical harassment. She said that she was severely sexually harassed last year when she invited a male friend to come over after school and "hang out." But their meeting soon led to sex that she said was not consensual on her part.

The sophomore said that sexual harassment education may have helped her prevent the incident but feels that solutions the county offered, like writing a letter to the harasser or speaking to a counselor, are impractical. "In reality, there are so many emotions going through your head that [telling someone] is not an option at the moment. It's scary," she said.

Currently, MCPS regulations require that all students receive information regarding sexual harassment once in their high- school career.

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