Preventing Harassment: An Interview with Girls for Gender EquityNovember 21, 2011
This post is part of a series focusing on sexual harassment in middle and high school, launched in conjunction with the release of AAUW’s latest research report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which was supported by the Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle and the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund. Follow @AAUWResearch on Twitter for updates.
AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School highlights the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools as well as promising practices for ending that harassment. One example is the work of Girls for Gender Equity, a New York City-based nonprofit founded in 2000 that runs a variety of youth programs. They’ve done considerable work around sexual harassment in schools, including conducting student surveys, distributing youth-written tool kits, and creating a Title IX coordinator awareness campaign. Their activities are detailed in the book Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets.
GGE Director of Community Organizing Meghan Huppuch took some time recently to answer a few questions about their work.
AAUW: How did sexual harassment become a focus for GGE?
Huppuch: We have a youth organizing internship called Sisters in Strength. The students meet on a weekly basis and do community organizing. A few years ago, the students talked about the harassment they faced on the way to work. We realized this is a serious problem for the young women in our community and that we needed to help them. As a first step, the girls decided to create a documentary about their experiences inspired by Maggie Hadleigh-West’s film War Zone. They really wanted to show people what they experienced on the street. The film they created is called Hey Shorty.
AAUW: What is the importance of young women getting involved in this issue?
Huppuch: Young women experience harassment and judgment all the time. We as women learn that we’re objects, that we’re not safe in public, that we don’t deserve to be defended [when] this happens, and this is normal and just a rite of passage. So the [women involved with this issue] get to say this is not normal and this is not OK and it needs to stop. And they’re able to identify experiences they’ve had in the past that are not OK and say, “I’m going to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.” It’s about taking power back from the harasser and taking charge of the moment.
AAUW: Students may not always label their experiences as harassment. How do you or your youth leaders help make the connection between what students encounter and what they think of as harassment?
Huppuch: When we talk to young people about this, we emphasize that it’s up to them to talk about their experiences. We ask them to consider what is OK or what is not OK, and when it’s not OK, to take action. What is most important is that people define these things for themselves and are able to label it as harassment and speak out.
AAUW: What advice can you offer to students who witness or experience harassment in their schools?
Huppuch: One thing I would say is to talk to other students about it. Other people are probably noticing the same thing as you. It’s always powerful to build a group of people who are at least thinking about it and thinking about what can be done about it. Even if you find only one other person, realize that you both have a lot of power. There are things you can do. You can both ask who the Title IX coordinator is at your school or you can talk to an adult to ask who to report these things to. Use as many resources as you have at your disposal, whether it’s the AAUW report or books like Hey Shorty. There are resources, and it’s good to harness them.
This post was written by AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Intern Julie Smolinski.