Sexual Harm Survey Data Released

By Lilly Baker

(Click here for full survey results.)

As part of a district-wide effort to address persisting issues related to sexual harassment, over 2,500 Berkeley High School (BHS) students took a sexual harm survey last March. The results were released to members of the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee in May. The BHS administration has yet to take direct action in response to the data.

The survey investigated the presence of a broad range of issues. Students responded to questions relating to their own experience with sexual harm, harassment, and abuse, their encounters with homophobic rhetoric, their experiences with rumors and sexual harassment through social media, among other topics.

To the question “Since the beginning of this school year, has anyone you know through school made unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures to you in person?” 320 students, or 13.19 percent of respondents, stated, “Yes, once,” while 520 students, or 21.43 percent of respondents, put “Yes, more than once.”

8.01 percent of respondents stated that on one occasion they had been called gay, transgender, or lesbian in a negative way by someone they know through school since the beginning of the school year, while 11.07 percent of respondents stated that it had occurred more than once.

“Around the LGBTQ questions, I thought it was really interesting that those numbers weren’t higher, which I think says a lot about Berkeley,” said Rebecca Levenson, parent advisor to BHS Stop Harassing and senior policy analyst and consultant at Futures Without Violence, an organization committed to ending domestic abuse. Levenson said that, nationwide, statistics surrounding the use of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in high schools are higher than the results of the BHS survey.

In response to the question, “Since the beginning of this school year, has anyone you know through school physically intimidated you in a sexual way?” 6.76 percent of respondents answered, “Yes, once,” while 4.77 percent of respondents answered, “Yes, more than once.”

11.23 percent of respondents reported that on one occasion they had been touched in an unwelcome sexual way by someone they knew through school since the beginning of the school year, while 8.71 percent of respondents reported that it had occurred more than once. 3.10 percent  of respondents replied, “Yes, once” while 0.87 percent of students replied, “Yes, more than once,” to the question “Since the beginning of this school year, has anyone you know through school forced you to do something sexual?” Levenson, Rebecca Villagran, a member of the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee and a BHS teacher, and Daniela Vieira, a member of the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee and a BHS student, all explained their belief that certain results would have been different had alternative phrasings been used in the question. “Forced to do [something] is so different than made to do [something ],”Levenson said. All three women explained that the connotation of the word ‘forced’ is one of violence or physical restraint, whereas the word ‘made’ includes instances in which someone may have been coerced or made to do something they were uncomfortable with.

Ty Alper, president of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board, issued a statement regarding the survey’s data: “The results of the sexual harm survey provide some important data points in our efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and other instances of sexual harm at Berkeley High. In addition to preventing such instances, we also need to make sure we are responding appropriately when it occurs. Bottom line is that students need to feel safe, and be safe, in our schools.”

Alper stated that the district will continue Green Dot training for students and staff, that BUSD is continuing their effort to build capacity for restorative practices and restorative justice, and that the district is going to revamp their complaints policy to make it simpler and more user-friendly.

“I think as a first run … [the survey] was really great. I’m so glad that we got the administration to really put some effort into doing something like that, but I think it was just the first step,” Villagran said. BUSD has yet to state whether another survey will be administered during the 2017-2018 school year.