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Unwelcome sexual advances, a request for sexual favors, or any other conduct of sexual nature constitute sexual harassment. In the U.S., sex is an inescapable theme present in all media where teens learn that sexual advances are an expected behavior of boys and girls (Roleff, 2001). The teenage period consists of increased awareness of sexuality by teenagers. In this period, teenagers are moving from a state of ignorance, concerned about the changes they witness in their lives. Studies by Sprecher, Harris, and Meyers (2008) have shown that peers from the first reference point for adolescents who have questions about their sexuality. They represent the main source of sexual education for adolescents. Study findings on the favorable sources of sexuality information by teenagers have shown that there is an increased reliance on peers, professionals, and the internet as a form of media. However, the increase has not resulted in a decline in the preference of parents and independent reading.
Sexual Harassment of Teenagers
In discovering their sexuality, teenagers become responsive to sexual gestures and are capable of arousal. They develop sexual desires that they find embarrassing to express because of a cultural condition enforced by parents and educators that sex is dirty and needs to wait until marriage (Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011). To let out their desires, teenagers resolve to bully, tease, and eventually sexually harass others.
Teenage Sexual Harassment is a Cultural Problem
As teenagers learn about sexuality from their peers, they also learn about their sexual preferences and are likely to assume the sexual tendencies practiced by their peer advisors. In addition, teenagers seeking information about their sexuality from their fellow peers are prone to sexual harassment as a practical way of informing them of the different aspects of their sexuality.
There are several conditions that allow the proliferation of sexual harassment of teenagers cases in the U.S. that are discussed in this paper, together with other conditions that indirectly influence the tendency of a teen to harass another. A study by Fineran and Bennett (1999) shows that 87 percent of girls are sexually harassed, and 77 percent of girls harass their peers. On the other side, 79 percent of boys face sexual harassment while 72 percent of boys sexually harass their peers. The main risk factor that contributes to sexual harassment is bullying. Bullying is not a criminal offense in U.S. schools and is therefore not strictly restricted. Girls and boys who bully others see it as a normal practice (Stein, 1995). The disregard of the probability of bullying to lead to incidences of sexual harassment has assisted to camouflage sexual harassment cases in U.S. schools as cases of teenage violence and teasing.
Behavior that constitutes dating, courtship violence, or domestic violence in adults merely passes for teasing in teenagers. This lack of proper recognition for teenage victimization has greatly contributed to the increase in teenage sexual harassment cases in U.S. schools. As long as teasing and bullying are behaviors accepted tacitly by parents and teachers as normal teen behaviors, then sexual harassment in schools will continue to proliferate because most sexual harassment cases are easily rendered as bullying or teasing and do not warrant the required punishment for the perpetrators.
Stein (1995) reports that schools are essentially a training ground for a devious cycle of domestic violence, and this incorporates sexual harassment. The author notes that in cases of self-defense against sexual harassment, the victim becomes the wrongdoer after they react violently against those harassing them. This case presents sexual harassment victims with a dilemma of where to turn to for help after both teachers and parents discredit their claims. Victims are left helpless on their own with the hindsight that adults close to them cannot help. Therefore such victims give in to sexual harassment and accept that bullying and teasing as well as occasional violence that accompanies these behaviors as normal. Since it is a common practice to tease and bully as well as sexually harassing other students in school, boys and girls witness these cases in public and are not aware that the behavior is wrong. Instead, they learn tacitly and directly to continue to sexually harass their peers or suffer sexual harassment in silence.
Sexual harassment in schools is, therefore, a cultural problem. When a school is not committed to a spirit of equality that is expressively against any form of injustice, then the schools become a fertile breeding ground for the harmful sexual harassment behavior that is likely to lead to domestic gender violence as teenagers turn into adults. Adult sexual harassment is a criminal offense punishable by law; however, the same is not applicable to teenage sexual harassment. In coming up with measures to prevent or control incidences of sexual harassment in schools, stakeholders need to be aware of the interwoven relations of the adolescent discovery of their sexuality, their preferred learning sources, and ways the reasons behind that practice of sexual harassment and the overall cultural interpretation of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment lawsuits have increased the awareness of the problem without significantly preventing further occurrences of sexual harassment. The most effective way to check the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools is to normalize the conversation surrounding the topic so that teenagers are able to participate freely in the conversation. Abstract curriculum learning of sexuality only serves to inform students of the bodily changes occurring during their adolescent period and does not give them remedy advice on how to respond when they are victims of behaviors associated with adolescents.
Stein (1995) has recognized that disciplinary measures and lawsuits serve little to prevent further cases of sexual harassment in schools. The author suggests that proper material that is appropriate and sequential should be incorporated into the curriculums of respective schools, as well as discussions about sexuality and sexual harassment. As explained earlier in this paper, peers form the second most trusted source of sex education for teenagers after their parents. This paper has shown that adults and peer educators are not favored as the preferred authority to report cases of teenage sexual harassment because they are less likely to act in favor of the victim. Teenagers are left to depend on their peers, who might also be victims for emotional support after they suffer sexual harassment attacks.
Recommendations of Dealing with the Vice
In order for a strategy to be effective in curbing sexual harassment incidences in schools, it must be structured in a form that allows teenagers to learn and teach their peers. The initiative should also be proactive in coming up with solutions and learning material instead of reacting to reported cases of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment happens in public and therefore shapes up the school environment affecting those observing as well as those being harassed and those harassing others. Teachers and other adults need to initiate behavioral changes that demonstrate the responsibility of teenagers as moral individuals. When teenagers become morally aware of their environment, they are in a position to speak up against incidences that they would not want to happen to them, such as sexual harassment. Students need to be taught how to be proactive in intervening when they witness sexual harassment cases. Instead of being spectators too afraid to get involved, teenagers in schools must be empowered to see sexual harassment for what it is; an injustice that is punishable (Roleff, 2001).
Sexual harassment happens in all schools in the United States, and awareness levels of this vice are rising because of several public lawsuits. Unfortunately, the curricula and school structures of most schools only allow student participation in the school environment and policy as spectators (Stein, 1995). Gruber and Fineran (2008) reinforce the need for safer school environments for all students as an effective strategy to curtail sexual harassment cases. They argue that a limited focus on bullying among boys in schools that leaves out a focus on the victims and perpetrators of sexual violence as a different behavior fails to offer a conclusive solution to the provision of a safe environment for all teenagers in schools U.S. schools. To address effectively sexual harassment, teenagers should be taught sexuality to improve their sexual decision-making ability. Sexuality education offers a holistic approach to sexual information, understanding attitudes attributed to sex, as well as offering a broad examination of sexual issues (Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011).
Fineran, S., & Bennet, L. (1999). Gender and power issues of peer sexual harassment among teenagers. Journal of Intepersonal Violence, 14(6), 626-641.
Greenberg, J. S., Bruess, C. E., & Conklin, S. C. (2011). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. Sadbury: Jones and Barlett Publishers.
Gruber, J. E., & Fineran, S. (2008). Comparing the impact of bullying and sexual harassment victimization on the mental and physical health of adolecents. Sex Roles, 59(1-2), 80-92.
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Roleff, T. L. (Ed.). (2001). Teenage sexuality: oppossing viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
Sprecher, S., Harris, G., & Meyers, A. (2008). Perceptions of sources of sex education and target of sex communication: socio demographic and cohort effects. Journal of Sex Research, 45(1), 17-26.
Stein, N. (1995). Sexual harassment in school: the public performance of gendered violence. Harvard Education Review, 65(2), 29-46.