Harrowing harassment

How sexual misconduct can affect teenagers

Molly Murch, Staff Writer

Shame. Guilt. Isolation. Fear. All feelings we would never wish upon ourselves and feelings we would never wish upon our loved ones. And yet, millions of teenagers experience this pain because of sexual harassment in a place where misconduct should be the last thing on their minds: high school.

While sexual harassment may seem like some far-off concept only heard about on twitter, its presence can be found right under our noses. Your lab partner, math tutor, or best friend could have been sexually harassed. This prevalence is alarming but often goes unnoticed.

According to The American Association of University Women (AAUW), nearly half of middle and high school students have experienced sexual harassment, in one way or another. This includes both verbal and physical harassment, as well as over text, social media or other electronic methods. That, in tandem with the fact that, according to Al Jazeera America, nearly 1 in 3 high schoolers who have been harassed no longer want to go to school, is a reminder of the epidemic that is sexual misbehavior and the devastating consequences that can evolve from it.

The problem arises in many cases as a result of the misconception that it is “no big deal” or “just a joke”, and many are unable to distinguish between harassment and humor.

“I think sometimes students don’t necessarily know [what sexual harassment is]; they think ‘we’re just having fun, we’re just goofing around’ and they don’t necessarily understand what rises to the level of harassment,” assistant principal Casey Lundgren said.

As reported by discipline data submitted annually to the Millard School Board, in the first semester of the 2017-2018 school year, there were two sexual harassment cases reported at MN.

While only two reported cases at MN may seem insignificant, that tally isn’t acknowledging the others that went unreported. Less than 10% of surveyed students in grades 7-12 who were sexually harassed reported it to an adult at school, as stated by the AAUW. This disturbing statistic stems from their fear of retaliation, of being deemed a liar or the wrongfully placed embarrassment they frequently experience.  

“I think people blame themselves and sometimes they feel guilty or ashamed for what happened,” counselor Jodi Therkelsen said.

While many schools address sexual harassment, MN included, the focus is typically on physical harassment. Verbal sexual harassment or that over electronic means is just as common and what begins as something seemingly irrelevant to one’s physical health can quickly escalate into consequential complications.

“Sometimes sexual harassment registers as a trauma, and it’s difficult for the [patient] to deal with it, so what literally happens is the body starts to become overwhelmed” licensed psychologist  at Hammond Psychology and Associates Nekeshia Hammond said. “Essentially, it’s a kind of denial that when experienced for a long state can turn into physical symptoms.”

The effects of sexual harassment can span decades, influencing the most arbitrary decisions you make. Even the simplest situations can be just as traumatic as the original incident.

“It can really impact them and cause a lot of fear and anxiety when they get into certain situations. It also impacts confidence levels and there’s a struggle to be proud of what you’re doing and to feel confident and comfortable with your abilities and skills because you’re worried,” counselor Jillian Depue said.

With accusations arising and movements attracting millions, high schools have taken actions to deter inappropriate behavior. MN specifically, educates students, defining sexual harassment as “unwanted or unwelcome activity of a sexual nature which materially interferes with or substantially disrupts the educational process.”

It is clarified in health classes and handbook talks, emphasizing the immorality of it. Staff members also strive to create a safe environment with tools that can provide relief to those harassed.  

However, penalties and education will not terminate sexual harassment entirely.

“Sometimes I say ‘how would you feel if your sister were treated that way or your mom were treated that way?’” Lundgren said. “Develop that empathy so you can see things through that lens”.

Sexual harassment and its effects have been brought to the forefront, prompting high schools to shut it down. Experts agree that as something that causes such distress, a variety of techniques must be implemented to ensure that sexual harassment ends.