Sexual Harassment Is an Issue for Boys, TooDecember 12, 2011
Sexual harassment disproportionately affects girls. The AAUW report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School empowers girls to understand that there are institutional biases against them because they are girls and that these biases make them more susceptible to harassment and the detrimental effects that flow from those experiences. But one area where girls fare slightly better than boys is in their willingness to report harassment. Of those surveyed for Crossing the Line, only 12 percent of girls who experienced sexual harassment reported it. But boys who experienced sexual harassment at school were even less likely to report it — just 5 percent did so.
That finding weighs heavily on me as I continue to hear horrific stories coming from Penn State, where prosecutors say an 11-year-old boy was molested (a form of sexual harassment and violence that is covered under Title IX) and several others were also sexually assaulted. He and the other alleged victims were then shamed by Penn State students, alumni, celebrities, and even their own peers, all because they had the courage to speak up. Unfortunately, that boy — whom the grand jury calls Victim One and is now a teenager — felt he had no choice but to leave school because of the continued victimization — and yes, continued sexual harassment — by his peers in the aftermath of reporting sexual abuse by a popular football coach.
In an open letter to this boy, Tyler Perry, a renowned celebrity and role model for thousands of young people, wrote eloquently about the courage of this young victim, who was the first to come forward. Perry also shared his own tragic story of abuse, which was made even more tragic by his inability to find help from anyone.
“You may have to go through with that trial, and you may feel all alone when you’re on that witness stand, but just know that there are millions of young boys and grown men who are standing with you — including me,” Perry wrote. “If every man who has ever been molested would speak up, you would see that we’re all around you. You may not know all of our faces and names, but my prayer is that you feel our strength holding you up. You will get through this; you’ve already endured the worst part at age 11. Now fight on, my young friend, fight on! We are all with you.”
AAUW works hard to translate these stories into data that can be used to help protect children in the future. Earlier this month, I met with Senate staff members who are pushing forward with two pieces of legislation: the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. I hope you will put your rage into action and make sure your senators are supporting these bills that might make it just a little bit easier for victims of sexual harassment at schools to get the help they need.