Culture of Silence

The Center for Public Integrity has released a report about Sexual Assault on College Campuses.. The report has many details, but the overarching ideas are:

  • “95 percent of students who are sexually victimized do not report to police or campus officials”
  • Students are subject to a disciplinary code which is confusing and not transparent.
  • There is a “a culture of silence around sexual assault,” in which college administrators subtly discourage students from reporting assault and rape, however, administrations insist that there is no such discouragement.
  • Those who do report “described encountering processes that seemed intimidating, unsympathetic, or unlikely to result in punishment for the accused students.”
  • Some schools offer “mediation,” which should NEVER be used in sexual assault cases.
  • Students pursuing justice through the campus administration are often subject to “gag orders,” and are required to not disclose anything about the procedures or outcomes

To give some perspective on how this affects students:

Few of the roughly 8,000 students at SUNY New Paltz have admitted an interest in pursuing disciplinary proceedings in sex offenses, according to statistics the school provided to the Center. Since 1998, only six students have reported a sexual assault to the office responsible for initiating those proceedings. Of those, three cases resulted in a campus hearing. Just one punishment has resulted from a sexual assault case — an expulsion in 2002.

From the Justice Department-funded study, a college the size of SUNY New Paltz could estimate that more than 1,700 of its female students were victims of rape or attempted rape in that 11-year period.

Sadly, there are lives at stake with this issue. One student committed suicide after her school refused to investigate her allegations of sexual assault and rape, and the police did little in their investigation.

How many more women have to be victimized before things stop? How many women ARE victimized, and then choose to not report it to the police or campus authorities, just to avoid being victimized again?


December 14, 2009 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Reporting and Infrequency

We’ve written before about the portrayal of report sexual harassment in the media. In short, blame is often transferred to the survivor.

But how often is sexual harassment reported?

-An opinion piece states that in Florida schools in 2007-2008 there were 1,287 reports of sex offenses, and only 2,150 reports of sexual harassment.

– In stories about subway sexual harassment, there were less than 600 reports of harassment annually.

Approximately 38% of New York City students report bias-based harassment at their school.

-Girls for Gender Equity’s youth led Participatory Action Research, not yet in publication, shows that when youth are asked about whether specific sexually harassing behaviors happen in their school, such as pinching or teasing, the rates are as high as 60%. When asked if they have ever reported the behavior, less than 5% had.

Since NYC has over 1 million students, if we follow this logic, the number of individuals experiencing harassment, outside or inside their schools, is astronomical.

But in 1.1 million students, how many students have reported sexual harassment?

If the remarkably low frequency of reporting was recognized, policy and media coverage would have to change. In this blog post by Dr. Karen Rayne, she discusses the media reporting of a student on student sexual assault at a middle school in Austin, Texas. The media has focused on the idea that this is an “isolated incident” ignoring that “the vast majority of sexual assaults, abuse, and harassment is not reported.”

She ends her post saying:

Ideally we would live in a culture where this sort of thing never happened. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and pretending we do isn’t going to make it so. The only way to reduce sexual abuse is by bringing it out in the open and having the extraordinarily painful conversations that it requires.

We must have the painful conversations before the harassment and assault occurs, as well as encourage those who have been harassed or assaulted to step forward. Both steps are necessary in the fight to end the systemic sexual harassment in our culture and schools.

December 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

Human Rights Day

Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The United Nations, and all 185 country members, ratified a declaration of rights that all humans are afforded on this day in 1948.

Unfortunately, even 61 years after this declaration, these basic human rights have not been realized. We still experience violence, discrimination and unfair circumstances of all kinds.

Read the entire Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A few choice articles from the declaration that are especially pertinent to gender equity:
(The use of male pronouns is from the original text.)

Article 2.

* Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 22.

* Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

* (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
* (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

December 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm Leave a comment

Personal Experiences

In our group discussions, perhaps the most moving aspect is  individuals  sharing their experiences with sexual harassment. As the first of a hopefully ongoing series, we hope to highlight blog posts from around the internet of the very personal and real experiences of sexual harassment.

Michelle blogs as The Fat Nutritionist. Recently, she posted a story about how her appearance changed how people interacted with her in a post called Pretty Good Looking for a Girl.

There was another reason for this — when I reached puberty, but not quite fashionability, at age 12, I had my induction into the world of womanhood via the ritual hazing of sexual harassment. I was tormented, squeezed, hissed at, touched, groped, fondled, and pulled forcibly into people’s laps at school.

Do not misunderstand: this was not flirting. It was humiliation and cruelty. These people were not interested in me as a human being; they did not have crushes on me; they did not care for me. It was degradation, plain and simple. And I wanted no part of it. I physically and vociferously fought back. But I was confused — I did not understand why it happened, what I’d done to deserve it, and why no one came to my aid.

As bad as this was, it only got worse when I started dressing in beauty drag. I began attracting the attention of perfect strangers, of people much older than me, people who didn’t just mean to humiliate me, but who actually meant me harm. I went from feeling like an invisible person who was occasionally objectified for other people’s pleasure, to being a deer in hunting season. I was highly visible, something about me was now considered highly desirable, and I was no longer just vulnerable to attack — I was actively targeted because of the way I looked. My life and physical safety were threatened more than once.

December 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm Leave a comment

Title IX Intro & Athletics

Title IX

Title IX*  is the law that the Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools works to promote in our fight for social justice. CGES focuses specifically on Title IX’s prohibition of  sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

However, these areas of concern are not the only ones covered by Title IX. They are also not the only areas that impact the young people we work with and care about. The Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools is passionate about working towards the full realization of Title IX in  schools.

The text of Title IX reads:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

While the text is short, the implications are vast. Title IX impacts ten key areas of gender equity in federally funded educational settings: Access to Higher Ed, Athletics, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.

(*Originally named Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in 2002 it was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after the Congresswoman who authored it. Mink, a Democratic representative from Hawaii was also the first woman of color and first Asian American elected to Congress.)

Title IX & Athletics

Due to the way that it has been represented in the media, many people think that Title IX’s only implications are connected to the funding of high school and college athletics. While sports are not the sole focus of the law, there is no denying that athletics is one area in which Title IX has had a profound impact on the access women have to teams, equipment, facilities, etc.

Two recent news stories have highlighted the dire need for more stringent applications of Title IX in sports:

1) After learning she was pregnant, a teenage Volleyball player in Ft Worth, Texas wanted to continue playing on her school’s Volleyball team. The school district required her to get a doctors note to continue to be on the team. However, when she was allowed to play again, the coach dramatically reduced her court time despite the letter of support from her doctor.

2) Title IX combines with other nondiscrimination laws to prevent retaliation. In the second story, a women’s basketball coach was fired after she complained about the gender inequities in sports at her school. She was awarded one year’s salary for wrongful termination.

December 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm Leave a comment

Why Single Out Sexual Harassment?

As this is something that has been rolling around in my head, I wanted to explore the idea here. Why do we need to include all these protected classes if bullying and harassment is already prohibited? Why single out sexual harassment as important if harassment itself is already wrong?

It is not an easy question to answer. However, U.S. society demonizes sexuality to become a weapon. Girls are regularly called “sluts” for things that have nothing to do with their sexuality, such as wearing the “wrong” clothing, hanging out with the “wrong” people, or generally being either the object of envy or scorn.

As such, there is a distinct difference between generally bullying, and bullying that focuses on the characteristics of an individual. Specifically, focusing on the sex and gender and sexual orientation (actual or assumed) of an individual creates a different focus of the harassment than other forms of non-specific discrimination and behavior.

In this Article (PDF) called Bullying or Sexual Harassment, Stein suggests that schools may be labeling behavior as bullying to both avoid labeling it as racism, sexism, or discrimination, and also to perhaps deflect from their legal liabilities.

In addition, the article raises the possibility that by labeling actions as “bullying,” (and, in some cases, by labeling them as sexual harassment), schools can minimize the idea that the actions could be considered criminal.

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has definitions of sexual assault and consent on their website. Many items are often seen in schools, and often they are overlooked, not considered serious, or are placed in the ever-popular “boys will be boys” category. An example:

“Forcible Touching: the intentional and forcible touching of another

* done for the purpose of degrading or abusing another person or done for the purpose of gratifying the defendant’s sexual desire

* includes squeezing, grabbing, or pinching

I hear many stories of students in high school that are subjected to grabbing and pinching. Many do not realize that this behavior is considered sexual harassment, and still fewer understand that this is criminal behavior. While we may differ on what we believe is an appropriate reaction or punishment for harassment, criminal sexual assault is something that, outside of school, is dealt with legally.

In addition, the failure of the school administration (or, in the workplace, workplace supervisors) to respond to sexual harassment, including “forcible touching” and other sexual assaults, is in itself illegal and is a cause for a legal case.

When sexual harassment is so pervasive that 90% of students report it, and 52% say they have experienced unwanted physical contact (Source from Feministing Here), something needs to change.

December 2, 2009 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

What Does “Prevention” Look Like?

Five Long Beach teens arrested for allegedly groping classmates

Last Tuesday, a female student at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, CA reported that “boys circled her and grabbed her body after lunchtime”. The young men were arrested and have been charged with misdemeanor sexual battery. The article is unclear whether there have been multiple incidents of assault reported, simply saying that the students allegedly groped “female classmates”.

One of the issues that the Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools struggles with is figuring out the ideal way for schools to enforce rules addressing sexual harassment. And what are “appropriate” “punishments” for violating these rules.

CGES consistently returns to education as the logical, and necessary, first step. Nearly no one in schools is equipped to recognize and properly address sexual harassment or assault when it happens. How then, do we expect people to follow or enforce the rules?

Due to this overwhelming lack of knowledge, in many cases, as in Long Beach, once the harassing behaviors are recognized and responded to, they have already reached the level of sexual assault and the legal system is the proper recourse. The recognition and proper response to sexual harassment before the point of assault is vital so that further escalation is prevented.

After mentioning a sexual harassment sensitivity training that will be implemented, L.A. Now quotes Chris Eftychiou, the Long Beach Unified School District spokesman, as saying,

“Hopefully this is extent of it…But we just want parents to know they and their children should feel comfortable approaching the school if they even suspect anything like this occurring.”

It’s unfortunate that it takes the assault of young women to make a school district aware and vocal about sexual harassment.

But here’s to the vision of more students, in Long Beach and everywhere, reporting sexual harassment and assault when it happens and being taken seriously.

November 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

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The Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools is dedicated to eradicating sexual harassment in the New York City school system. We are NYC youth, educators, parents, and organizers working hard to eliminate sexual harassment and create safe schools.
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