By Meghan Byrnes and Morgan Brang
The controversial topic of sexual harassment has become much more relevant in recent years. Sexual harassment on college campuses seems to be more prevalent than ever, and the way that some cases have been handled has sparked a movement towards ensuring that both the victim and the accused find justice. The news seems to mainly cover instances that occur on college campuses, but it is important to realize that sexual harassment occurs before and after college as well, not just on college campuses.
Making victims feel comfortable and having a successful system in place to deal with instances of sexual harassment in high schools is extremely important, but it is something that some students feel Jamesville-DeWitt High School lacks. At J-DHS, out of the 100 female students who were surveyed, 14 said they would feel comfortable reporting instances of sexual harassment to the all-male administration, while the other 86 said they would not.
Seniors Gabby Simiele, Josh Gutmaker, and Shannon Theobald were part of the group that attended the Building Level Team meeting to voice their concerns about sexual harassment and assault within our school. One of their major concerns is that the administration at J-DHS is made up of only male administrators which could lead to students holding back their complaints.
Theobald said that “[the victims] just don't feel the most comfortable and its a time when they need to” about victims having to report to a male administration. “At the end of the day there are possibly four plus males you will have to talk to as a female victim of sexual harassment or assault,” added Simiele about the process.
To address this problem, students were hoping to have a group assembled, including at least one female, that is responsible for dealing with sexual harassment cases in school. “I think most students would go to a teacher first or a guidance counselor instead of going to administration,” said English teacher and BLT representative Diane Rushford about a student reporting sexual harrassment. Theobald agrees, saying that she knows a few people who would be more inclined to go to health teacher and BLT chair Melissa Moore about a situation involving sexual harassment.
Another concern they have is that the process as a whole for handling instances of sexual harassment or assault is very flawed. “I was tired of seeing not only myself but my peers suffer because our process for dealing with it is not sufficient,” said Simiele. “We have a system that is just not a very open thing, and it’s quite intimidating for anyone who has been through something like that,” added Gutmaker. Not only are these students questioning the system, but also the punishments assigned to the perpetrators. While Simiele would not go into the specifics, she has personally witnessed a lack in continuity in punishing students, and hopes that bringing attention to this will ensure fair punishment to all who are guilty of sexual harassment or assault.
However, not all of the teachers are educated on the process when dealing with a sexual harassment case. This was one of Simiele’s major concerns, because she feels that the current training that teachers receive on how to deal with sexual harassment and assault is not satisfactory. Because of this, teachers will often hand the student off to the administrators who know the process well, but from then on, the student is dealing with all males, which could become uncomfortable for a female. In addition to dealing with all males, the victim would have to repeat their story several times as they came into contact with different adults in the system, which is something that some victims may want to avoid, according to Theobald. Even Ms. Rushford said that as an older woman, she wouldn’t want to talk about these potentially intimate details with a man.
After coming to this conclusion, the BLT made a recommendation to the administration that
“There should definitely be females in the building that are trained and part of that process so even if (the trained females) don't have a say in how it’s handled, the student has a support system going through the process,” said Ms. Rushford.
In addition to adding a female to this process, the school hopes to spread awareness about sexual harassment. To make this happen, George Kilpatrick from the Vera House will be attending the next BLT meeting on March 17 to present his program, Mentors in Violence Prevention. The meeting will begin after school in G01. According to Mrs. Moore, the goal of this program is to “get some teens who want to be peer educators and train them to talk about these kinds of things with teens, maybe in health classes or government classes or things like that.” Mrs. Moore is excited about this opportunity and thinks that this type of student-leader group for violence prevention is what a lot of concerned staff members and students are looking for.
An improved system for dealing with sexual harassment and assault cases within our high school would help not only the victims, but the perpetrators as well. “We are 17. In a year from now, if some of the people did what they currently do in school, they would wind up in jail or they could wind up on sex offender registry lists. That ruins your life, so if we do harsher punishments now, they're so less likely to take it lightly in the future,” said Simiele. Overall, a more open and equal system is the ideal solution to dealing with these cases more efficiently and fairly, according to Gutmaker. He added, “We are the number one school in the world right? Unless you are a victim of sexual harassment.”