Sexual Hassment Surveys are Vital to Make Progress

Written by Paavani Lella

Sexual harassment is more common than we think. According to a nationally representative survey of 1,965 students in grades seven through twelve done by the American Association of University Women, 48 percent of surveyed middle and high school students said they were sexually harassed at least once, typically by their peers. Also, most students who admitted to sexually harassing another student were also the target of sexual harassment themselves (92 percent of girls and 80 percent of boys). Just with the help of this eye-opening survey, we were able to learn so much about the shocking nature of sexual harassment. Imagine what we could do if we had a similar survey at BHS.

The only data collection efforts that are currently being made at BHS are a annual school climate survey, which has no specific reference to sexual harassment or assault whatsoever, and the California Health Kids Survey (CHKS) administered every year to 9th and 11th grade students. This isn’t much help because the current CHKS survey module contains only one question regarding “sexual jokes, comments or gestures made to you,” while there are 46 questions exploring alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. Also, sexual harassment and assault can happen at any age and grade, not just 9th and 11th.

BHS Stop Harassing (BHSSH) has been planning on doing a survey on sexual harassment/assault, and, if all goes as planned, we could gain a lot from it. For one thing, we could learn whether or not sexual harassment and assault occurs on campus, how frequently it happens, and if it is likely to be reported or not. We could also use the results to come up with a way to prevent and report sexual harassment and assault in an easy and safe manner. But that’s not all. According to Victoria Carton, a member of the BHSSH, the survey could also help find out whether or not the students know the correct definition of sexual harassment and assault and we could use the results from the survey to better educate students and spread awareness.

BHS has attempted to educate and survey students in the past, but the results have been less than satisfactory. You might remember how on December 16, 2014, 3rd period teachers were required to read a prepared text about sexual harassment. Reports said that teachers opted to skip the whole thing, in belief that academic work was more important. A similar “mini-lesson” was required to happen on December 15, 2015 and, similarly, most teachers chose to skip the lesson. Maybe because the lesson plan was sent to them only 24 hours in advance. Both the BHS administration and BHSSH conducted student surveys immediately after the lesson. The results showed that the mini-lessons didn’t help students feel safer at school, nor did they further clarify the processes for reporting incidents or getting help with an incident. This may be because the teachers didn’t have time to prepare for these lessons. Nonetheless, this idea was good in theory. We should do something like this again, but give teachers more time to prepare and make sure the “mini-lessons” have more information on sexual harassment and ways of reporting it.

Another thing we could do is have a whole school assembly on the matter, followed with a survey. On October 14, 2015, the SPARK assembly was held for 9th graders, accompanied with a survey. The program was developed under the leadership of the BHS principal and administrative team with the purpose to address issues of sexual harassment. The program consisted of an assembly that lasted approximately 60 minutes, with presentations from student leaders (BSU, GSA, Best Buddies, BHSSH, etc.) and staff. The assembly was followed by a 60 minute breakout session led by volunteer teachers to facilitate small group discussions of approximately 25 students on the material covered in the assembly. Both students and teachers/facilitators were surveyed about the program, and the results suggested that most were pleased with the assembly and that they found it useful. Teacher/facilitator comments expressed the desire to expand the program to all grade levels. The program ended up being way more effective than the “mini-lessons.” If this program was expanded to all grades it would offer a great opportunity for learning.

Efforts haven’t exactly been made yet to have to have a school-wide survey on sexual harassment and assault. Sure, we’ve had a few surveys for 9th graders and 11th graders, but we haven’t exactly had any for the whole school. There are many ways that we can do a survey, but some methods are clearly more useful and effective than others. For surveys with the intent of knowing whether or not sexual harassment happens in school, there should be a mini-lesson or assembly beforehand explaining what sexual harassment is because some students might not know what counts as sexual harassment and end up not reporting it. The survey should also be something you write on paper or answer online instead of verbally because it is a difficult subject for some. All surveys should be anonymous.

Sexual harassment and assault is something that can happen to anyone at any grade or age, and it is important to have ways to learn about, report, and prevent it. With the help of surveys, we can do just that.