Classroom Ideas for Fighting Sexual Harassment

December 07, 2011

Last month, AAUW hosted a discussion panel at the National Press Club to discuss the findings of our most recent report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. At the event, we had the privilege of having several high school students in attendance, and one of them made an excellent point about presenting sexual harassment information to high school and middle school students. She noted that the presentations she saw at school were usually outdated and campy. Consequently, students failed to take the issue seriously. In fact, sometimes the presentations prompted more harassment as students would attempt to mock the scenarios they had learned about.

In light of this important feedback, we’ve put together some tips for administrators and educators who want to teach about sexual harassment in the classroom while keeping the content engaging and relevant for students.

  1. Allot time for discussion. With moderation, discussions can be tremendously effective. By opening up a portion of class time to talk the issue out, you can gauge where students stand on this issue. Are they denying harassment is a problem? Or is this something they identify with? Additionally, talking is a form of thinking. If you have the chance to get students talking, it is a great first step to getting them to consider harassment a real problem.
  2. Have students share their stories. One of the event panelists, Ileana Jiménez, suggested teachers have students share their own harassment experiences with one another (either in person or by having students submit written stories anonymously). Students may learn that they have shared experiences, and when this happens, they are more likely to see harassment as a community issue that needs to be addressed. Sharing stories also allows students to be allies for one another and can create a culture of support.
  3. If possible, get students involved in the presentation. One of the notable aspects of peer culture is the influence young people can have on one another, and peer education is one of the most effective ways to engage young people on an issue. If your curriculum or lesson plan allows for it, consider having one of your students present a portion of the lesson.
  4. Ask questions and challenge assumptions. While it is important to give students straightforward definitions and examples of sexual harassment, it is also important to steer away from preaching. When students ask questions or make statements, you can use some of these opportunities for reflection and critical thinking instead of giving an outright yes or no answer. Revelations about harassment and inequality can be more powerful when students reach them on their own terms, and leading with questions can be a great way to get them to that place.
  5. Meet students at their level. It can be easy to get wrapped up in our own minds about sexual harassment’s connection to power imbalances and inequality. But many students don’t understand harassment this way, and what is obvious to us is not always to them. If a student disagrees or says something problematic (for example, that girls are only harassed when they wear short skirts), withhold judgment or the urge to correct them. Instead, ask them about their perspective and work with them from there.
  6. It never hurts to get help. You don’t have to pretend to be an expert on this issue, and there are numerous organizations out there that focus on educating young people about harassment and abuse. If you’re lacking ideas or require some extra materials to boost your presentation’s content, don’t be afraid to seek out the resources you need. AAUW’s newest public service announcement is a great visual aid for kicking off a presentation and getting the conversation going. Or check out Men Can Stop Rape. They specialize in reaching out to young men on the topics of rape and assault and have many handouts that you can download for free.

This post was written by AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Intern Julie Smolinski.

AAUWguest By:   |   December 07, 2011


  1. Avatar Julie says:

    Thank you for your comment! This post was written specifically in response to the comment we received at our panel, however the last chapter of our report is devoted to administrators, parents and students who wish to address sexual harassment in their schools. This chapter also features “Promising Practices” from groups and individuals that are working on this issue around the country.

  2. Avatar advocatepat says:

    These are excellent suggestions which should be shared with anyone in the educational community, as part of the collaborative strategy to confront sexual harassment. Students need to own this issue and have a role in the discussion and followup action.

    Will suggestions such as these be publicized among states and branches as they promote use of “Crossing the Line” findings in their communities?

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.