Combating Ok-12 Sexual Harassment and Violence: How Far Have We Come?

Two middle-schoolers head residence on a college bus in San Diego, Calif. Activists urge a cease to sexual harassment and assault in elementary and secondary faculties. (Getty Photos)

Seven years in the past, two dad and mom whose baby was sexually assaulted on a highschool discipline journey created the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) after demanding accountability from the Seattle college district. For the web site’s inaugural blog, Fatima Goss Graves, now president and CEO of the Nationwide Ladies’s Legislation Heart, wrote: “If we don’t carry a critical focus to the issue of sexual harassment and assault in elementary and secondary faculties, will probably be practically unattainable to make actual progress at another degree of schooling.”

SSAIS founders quickly found that Ok-12 faculties proved blind to their duties underneath Title IX, as exemplified within the 2012 NBC report “Bay Area Schools Ignoring Title IX,” primarily based on the Equal Rights Advocates analysis on “Ending Harassment Now.” As a result of faculties nationwide have mischaracterized sexual harassment as “bullying,” thereby de-gendering it, they sidestep their obligation to deal with the sex-based harassment underneath Title IX. By so doing, faculties have basically erased the harassment.

Teachers, researchers like Nan Stein and Charol Shakeshaft, advocates just like the late Title IX “Godmother” Bernice Resnick Sandler and others have lengthy recognized these points. In 2001, the American Affiliation of College Ladies launched its “Hostile Hallways” report and in 2011, “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.”

However the public was nonetheless unaware of widespread Ok-12 sexual harassment and violence.

If we don’t carry a critical focus to the issue of sexual harassment and assault in elementary and secondary faculties, will probably be practically unattainable to make actual progress at another degree of schooling.

Fatima Goss Graves

By 2015, sexual violence on faculty campuses was part of the nationwide consciousness. President Obama had launched the It’s on Us marketing campaign, movies like It Happened Here and The Hunting Ground put a human face on campus assault, Girl Gaga sang about sexual violence in “Till it Happens to You,” and importantly, pupil and survivor-led activism fueled the campus anti-rape motion. 

That motion “laid the groundwork for the emergence of #MeToo, the best profile marketing campaign in opposition to sexual harassment and violence in U.S. historical past,” in response to The New Campus Anti-Rape Movement.

A nonetheless from The Searching Floor (2015), directed by Kirby Dick, which uncovered rape crimes on U.S. faculty campuses and the toll they tackle college students and households. (Chain Digicam Photos)

However faculty anti-rape advocates didn’t clarify how rampant Ok-12 sexual harassment led to sexual violence on faculty campuses. (The missed alternative to unfold consciousness is mentioned in “Why Lady Gaga Should Be Talking to a Rape Victim’s Mother About K-12 Sexual Assault.”)

Nonetheless, the campus anti-rape motion paved the way in which for a motion to deal with Ok-12 sexual violence. The media reported heinous assaults, just like the 2012 Steubenville rape case, LGBTQIA+ suicides ensuing from sexual harassment, sexual assault “hazing” and incidents of educator abuse. However by and enormous, the general public was nonetheless unaware of the widespread sexual harassment recognized by researchers a long time earlier. When journalists centered on consent schooling, SSAIS asserted that consent schooling should happen alongside Title IX schooling. (See: “As the Mother of a Rape Victim, I Know Consent Education Is Not Enough.”)

To lift consciousness, SSAIS drew upon the nationwide attention the founders’ case obtained to sound the alarm. The Washington Publish revealed the groundbreaking 2016 report, “Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too.” Shortly thereafter, then-VP Biden invited 4 organizations to debate Ok-12 sexual violence. (Learn extra: “What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence” and the Ladies’s Media Heart’s “School sexual harassment: Underreported and ignored.”)

Not like the school anti-rape motion fueled by outspoken survivors, the nascent Ok-12 motion lacked pupil survivor-advocates in its early years. Most survivors had been minors who feared being blamed, punished and retaliated in opposition to for talking out.

“We’ve seen too many circumstances the place college students inform trusted academics or directors that they’ve been abused and find yourself suspended or expelled,” mentioned Alexandra Broadsky, employees lawyer at Public Justice. “And public reporting suggests survivors of colour are significantly prone to be punished on this method.”

There have been exceptions, like advocate Chessy Prout, whose assault at an elite non-public college obtained worldwide consideration. However few Ok-12 survivors have the assist to wage high-profile campaigns for accountability. With out Ok-12 pupil survivors prepared to talk to the media, SSAIS launched survivors’ dad and mom to journalists, which led to groundbreaking articles (notably “Reporting a school sexual assault can increase a victim’s risk of punishment“). 

SSAIS continued to interact in media outreach and offered background for the Related Press’s 2017 collection “Schoolhouse Sexual Assault.” Mark Keierleber’s 2017 report “The Younger Victims of Sexual Violence in School” and his “#MeTooK12: One Daughter’s Trauma, and a Family’s Quest to Prevent School-Related Sexual Violence” (2018) adopted. In 2019, the New York Occasions addressed Ok-12 sexual violence in “‘It’s Like the Wild West’: Sexual Assault Victims Struggle in K-12 Schools.” (See a chronological survey of chosen media studies here.)

Whereas SSAIS centered on sexual harassment in faculties, the Unslut Project addressed “sexual bullying” usually. UnSlut: A Documentary Film (2015) featured conversations with girls who skilled sexual shaming, together with household and buddies of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Halifax teen who died by suicide after being gang-raped. 

UnSlut’s creator, Meghan Joyce Tozer, defined the significance of survivor advocacy: “One of many principal causes we’re now conscious of the rampant sexual violence in grades Ok-12 is that kids and youngsters have began talking up. Now, with the success of story-sharing initiatives like The UnSlut Undertaking and the viral #MeToo motion, college students know they’re not alone. … They’ve made it unattainable to disregard the hazard they face at college when adults look the opposite method.”

Two different movies specializing in Ok-12 sexual violence—Audrie and Daisy (2016) and Roll Red Roll (2018)—had been launched.

New organizations, like SafeBAE and I Have the Right To emerged, whereas Know Your IX posted further assets for highschool college students. The Nationwide Ladies’s Legislation Heart raised consciousness with toolkits addressing college pushout, ladies of colour, intersectionality and extra. Equal Rights Advocates revealed an expanded survivor guide together with Ok-12 college students. SSAIS created toolkits and the student-focused video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!” Public Justice lawyer Adele Kimmel raised consciousness in media studies, whereas lawyer Carrie Goldberg spotlighted the disproportionate punishment ladies of colour expertise after being sexually assaulted at college.

Additional consideration was drawn to Ok-12 sexual harassment and violence in 2016 when former U.S. Division of Schooling Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed amendments to the laws governing Title IX implementation. In 2017, the #HandsOffIX social media marketing campaign was created to oppose the amendments, which dangerously impacted each faculty and Ok-12 college students. Public opposition was substantial—over 124,000 feedback had been submitted to the website, however DeVos’ amendments took impact anyway.

“The modifications that the Trump administration made in 2020 to the Title IX guidelines that create excessive burdens for college kids reporting sexual violence … successfully permit faculties to additional sweep harassment underneath the rug,” mentioned. NWLC lawyer Shiwali Patel.

In 2018, the SSAIS #MeTooK12 campaign obtained appreciable media attention. The marketing campaign’s progress is mentioned in “Levin: #MeTooK12 at 2 — the Impact of National Campaign to Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, and What Needs to Happen Next” and “#MeTooK12 Turns 4, Students Can’t Wait for Adults to Make Change.” (Chosen articles throughout varied media seem here.)

Whereas student-led teams could be efficient in elevating consciousness and making native change, they’re tough to maintain. Berkeley High School Stop Harassing, established in 2012 with assist from devoted grownup advisors, is a notable exception. Pupil advocacy dramatically elevated when classroom studying resumed after the pandemic. College students resorted to Instagram campaigns and demonstrations to show their faculties’ failures to deal with sexual assault, as mentioned in “Students Are Walking Out of School to Demand Better Protections From Sexual Harassment and Assault.” The long-awaited upsurge of younger survivors to drive change had arrived.

However obstacles to creating efficient change stem from “the shortage of assets to assist Title IX compliance, together with for Title IX coordinators, who’re chargeable for guaranteeing faculties are complying with Title IX and responding appropriately to intercourse discrimination, together with sexual harassment, Patel explains. Obstacles are additionally cultural, particularly the “long-standing rape myths that impression how we understand and reply to victims and survivors of sexual violence.”

One other basic drawback, mentioned Meghan Joyce Tozer, is “the reluctance of these in decision-making roles to acknowledge the extent of their previous failures. Earlier than an establishment can remedy a cultural drawback, it should first acknowledge the issue exists … and it’s a reckoning communities are understandably afraid to face.”

Regardless of obstacles, change is slowly occurring. When SSAIS founders filed a Title IX criticism with the U.S. Division of Schooling Workplace for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2014, there have been solely 24 Ok-12 faculties underneath investigation. OCR is at the moment investigating 136 sexual violence and 254 sexual harassment complaints.

As a result of the 2020 Title IX guidelines enabled faculties to disregard sexual harassment and assault, forward-thinking lawmakers launched payments to deal with Ok-12 sexual harassment and violence—examples embody the Stop Sexual Harassment in K-12 Act, California’s AB 218 (in impact) and Oregon’s House Bill 3077 (in impact). (Examine earlier requires legislative motion here.)

However few college districts are invested in creating studying environments free from sexual harassment, assault and intercourse discrimination. The NWLC’s “100 School Districts” and the NCWGE “Title IX at 50” studies establish key insurance policies and practices. Sources like SASH Club (College students In opposition to Sexual Harassment) empower youth to deal with sexual harassment and assault.

College students and allies can’t look forward to top-down change. We should demand motion now. 

Go to the compilation of assets on the Cease Sexual Assault in Faculties website.

Chosen Sources

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