Sexual Harassment of Teenagers in the USA
Unwelcome sexual advances, a request for sexual favours or any other conduct of sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment. In the U.S., sex is an inescapable theme present in all media where teens learn that sexual advances are an expected behaviour of boys and girls (Roleff, 2001). The teenage period consists of an increased awareness of sexuality by teenagers. In this period, teenagers are moving from a state of ignorance, concerned about the changes they witness in their lives. Studies by Sprecher, Harris and Meyers (2008) have shown that peers form the first reference point for adolescents who have questions about their sexuality. They represent the main source of sexual education for adolescents. Study findings on the favorable sources of sexuality information by teenagers have shown that there is an increased reliance on peers, professionals and the internet as a form of media. However, the increase has not resulted in a decline on the preference of parents and independent reading.
In discovering their sexuality, teenagers become responsive to sexual gestures and are capable of arousal. They develop sexual desires that they find embarrassing to express because of a cultural condition enforced by parents and educators that sex is dirty and needs to wait until marriage (Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011). To let out their desires teenagers resolve to bully tease and eventually sexual harass others.
Teenage Sexual Harassment is a Cultural Problem
As teenagers learn about sexuality from their peers, they also learn about their sexual preferences and are likely to assume the sexual tendencies practiced by their peer advisors. In addition, teenagers seeking information about their sexuality from their fellow peers are prone to sexual harassment as a practical way of informing them of the different aspects of their sexuality.
There are several conditions that allow the proliferation of sexual harassment of teenagers cases in the U.S. that are discussed in this paper, together with other condition that indirectly influence the tendency of a teen to harass another. A study by Fineran and Bennett (1999) shows that 87 percent of girls are sexually harassed and 77 percent of girls harass their peers. On the other side, 79 percent of boys face sexual harassment while 72 percent of boys sexually harass their peers. The main risk factor that contributes to sexual harassment is bullying. Bullying is not a criminal offence in U.S. schools and is therefore not strictly restricted. Girls and boys who bully others see it as a normal practice (Stein, 1995). The disregard of the probability of buying to lead to incidences of sexual harassment has assisted to camouflage sexual harassment cases in U.S. schools as cases of teenage violence and teasing.
Behaviour that constitute dating, courtship violence or domestic violence in adults merely passes for teasing in teenagers. This lack of a proper recognition for teenage victimization has greatly contributed to the increase in teenage sexual harassment cases in U.S. schools. As long as teasing and bullying are behaviours accepted tacitly by parents and teachers as normal teen behaviours, then sexual harassment in schools will continue to proliferate because most sexual harassment cases are easily rendered as bullying or teasing and do not warrant the required punishment for the perpetrators.
Stein (1995) reports that, schools are essentially a training ground for a devious cycle of domestic violence, which incorporates sexual harassment; the author notes that in cases of self-defence against sexual harassment, the victim becomes the wrong doer after they react violently against those harassing them. This case presents sexual harassment victims with a dilemma of where to turn to for help after both teachers and parents discredit their claims. Victims are left on helpless on their own with the hindsight that adults close to them cannot help, therefore such victims give in to sexual harassment and accept that bullying and teasing as well as occasional violence that accompanies these behaviours as normal. Since it is a common practice to tease and bully as well as sexually harass other students in school, boys and girls witness these cases in public and are not aware that the behaviour is wrong, instead they learn tacitly and directly to continue to sexually harass their peers or suffer sexual harassment in silence.
Sexual harassment in schools is therefore a cultural problem. When a school is not committed to a spirit of equality that is expressively against any form of injustice, then the schools becomes a fertile breeding ground for the harmful sexual harassment behaviour that is likely to lead to domestic gender violence as teenagers turn into adults. Adult sexual harassment is a criminal offence punishable by law; however, the same is not applicable to teenage sexual harassment. In coming up with measures to prevent or control incidences of sexual harassment in schools, stakeholders need to be aware of the interwoven relations of adolescent discovery of their sexuality, their preferred learning sources and ways, the reasons behind that practice of sexual harassment and the overall cultural interpretation of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment lawsuits have increased the awareness of the problem without significantly preventing further occurrences of sexual harassment. The most effective way to check the prevalence of sexual harassment is schools is to normalize the conversation surrounding the topic so that teenagers are able to participate freely in the conversation. Abstract curriculum learning of sexuality only serves to inform students of the bodily changes occurring during their adolescent period and does not give them a remedy advice on how to respond when they are victims of behaviours associated with adolescents.
Stein (1995) has recognized that disciplinary measures and lawsuits serve little to prevent further cases of sexual harassment in schools. The author suggests that proper material that age appropriate and sequential should be incorporated into the curriculums of respective schools as well as discussions about sexuality and sexual harassment. As explained earlier in this paper, peers forms the second most trusted source of sex education for teenagers after their parents. This paper has shown that adults and peer educators are not favoured as the preferred authority to report cases of teenage sexual harassment because they are less likely to act in favour of the victim. Teenagers are left to depend on their peers who might also be victims for emotional support after they suffer sexual harassment attacks.
Recommendations of Dealing with the Vice
In order for a strategy to be effective in curbing sexual harassment incidences in schools, it must be structured in a form that allows teenagers to learn and teach their peers. The initiative should also be proactive in coming up with solutions and learning material instead of reacting to reported cases of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment happens in public and therefore shapes up the school environment affecting those observing as well as those being harassed and those harassing others. Teachers and other adults need to initiate behavioural changes that demonstrate the responsibility of teenagers as moral individuals. When teenagers become morally aware of their environment, they are in a position to speak up against incidences that they would not want to happen to them such as sexual harassment. Students need to be taught how to be proactive in intervening when they witness sexual harassment cases. Instead of being spectators too afraid to get involved, teenagers in schools must be empowered to see sexual harassment for what it is; an injustice that is punishable (Roleff, 2001).
Sexual harassment happens in all schools in the United States and awareness levels of this vice are rising because of public several lawsuits, unfortunately the curricula and school structures of most schools only allows student participation in school environment and policy as spectators (Stein, 1995). Gruber and Fineran (2008) reinforce the need for safer school environments for all students as an effective strategy to curtail sexual harassment cases. They argue that a limited focus on bullying among boys in schools that leaves out a focus on the victims and perpetrators of sexual violence as a different behaviour, fails to offer a conclusive solution to the provision of safe environment for all teenagers in schools U.S. schools. To address effectively sexual harassment, teenagers should be taught sexuality to improve their sexual decision-making ability. Sexuality education offers a holistic approach to sexual information, understanding attitudes attributed to sex as well as offering a broad examination of sexual issues (Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011).
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