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March 1997 - Issue No. #26 (p.16 - 17)

Sexual Harassment in Schools

What It Is and How to Combat It

by Kip Cates (Tottori University, Japan

Sexual Harrassment

Sexual harassment is a growing problem that can undermine the effectiveness of schooling and education for boys, girls, men and women. The issue is complicated because of the uncertainty about what constitutes sexual harassment, the differing views of individual men and women, and the unique characteristics of each case.

Sexual harassment is not difficult to define. Simply put, it means to bother someone in a sexual way. Sexual harassment is behavior that is not only unwelcome, but in most cases repeated. The essence of combating sexual harassment is fostering mutual respect.

Types of Behaviour

These may be considered sexual harassment:

  • sexual comments, jokes, gestures, looks

  • exposure to sexual pictures or notes

  • sexual messages or graffiti

  • sexual rumors

  • touching or grabbing in a sexual way

  • blocking the way or cornering someone in a sexual manner

  • forcing to kiss or to do something sexual

What Can I Do In My School?

Here are some ways to combat sexual harassment:

  1. Encourage the school to provide awareness training on sexual harassment for teachers, counselors, administrators and students.

  2. Help your school demonstrate its strong commitment by developing and enforcing a clear policy on sexual harassment. Make sure the policy

    * explains what sexual harassment is
    * gives examples of unacceptable conduct
    * clearly describes grievance procedures and avenues for recourse
    * specifies disclipinary action to take
    * is widely posted and publicized
  3. Make sure all students and staff know how to detect harassment and know how to report it.

  4. Identify and train a few people in the school who can function as complaint managers - people who are authorized to receive confidential complaints and begin the process of dealing with them in a sensitive manner.

How Bad is the Problem?

A 1993 US survey found that sexual harassment affects four out of five teenagers in American schools nationwide. The following newspaper article about Kyoto University hints at the problem here in Japan.

Women say sexual harassment at Kyoto University rampant

Nearly half of female Kyoto University graduates and female teachers responding to a survey have been sexually harassed by male teachers at the prestigious national university, according to a group of women university instructors who conducted the survey. The group, led by Associate Professor Reiko Tanabe, said some graduates reported cases of serious harassment including one student whose academic advisor allegedly attempted to rape her and another who said she was hindered by a teacher in her job search after she refused to offer him sex.

The survey was conducted with 420 female teachers and 1,994 female graduates. Of the 589 graduates, who responded (34% of the total), 47% said they had been sexually harassed while studying at the university, 11% said they heard male teachers making discriminatory comments about women, and 18% said they were discriminated against by male teachers when applying for graduate schools or jobs.

One graduate said she was told by a male teacher, "Don't apply for graduate school because it would hinder male students. It's useless for women to study." Of the responding female teachers, 49.4% said they had experienced or heard about sexual harassment at the university. Tanabe said sexual harassment at universities is "deeply rooted" because of the power relationship between male teachers and female students.

Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, Japan Nov. 18, 1996

Sample School Policy on Sexual Harassment

I. The Policy

A. It is the policy of the ___ School to maintain a learning and working environment that is free from sexual harassment.

B. It shall be a violation of this policy for any member of the ___ School staff to harass another staff member or student, or for students to harass other students, through conduct or communications of a sexual nature as defined in Section II.

II. Definition

A. Sexual harassment shall consist of unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other inappropriate verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when made by any member of the school staff to a student, when made by any member of the school staff to another staff member or when made by any student to another student when:

1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or education

2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or employment decisions affecting that individual

3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's academic or professional performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment
B. Sexual harassment, as set forth in Section II-A, may include, but is not limited to:
1. Verbal harassment or abuse
2. Pressure for sexual activity
3. Repeated remarks to a person, with sexual or demeaning implications
4. Unwelcomed touching
5. Suggesting or demanding sexual involvement accompanied by implied or explicit threats concerning one's grades, job, etc.

III. Procedure

A. Any person who alleges sexual harassment by any staff member or student in the school may use the procedure detailed in the Fair Treatment Policy or may complain directly to his or her immediate supervisor, principal, ombudsman or other person designated at the annual sexual harassment prevention meeting held for students and staff. Filing of a grievance or otherwise reporting sexual harassment will not reflect upon the individual's status nor will it affect future employment, grades or work assignments.

B. The right to confidentiality, both of the complainant and of the accused, will be respected consistent with the school's legal obligations, and with the necessity to investigate allegations of misconduct and to take corrective action when this conduct has occurred.

IV. Sanctions

A. A substantiated charge against a staff member in the school shall subject such staff member to disciplinary action, including discharge.

B. A substantiated charge against a student in the school shall subject that student to student disciplinary action including suspension or expulsion, consistent with the student discipline code.

V. Notification

Notice of this policy will be circulated to all departments of the ___ School on an annual basis and incorporated into teacher and student handbooks. It will also be distributed to all organizations in the community having cooperative agreements with the public schools. Failure of these organizations to comply with this policy may result in termination of the cooperative agreement. Training sessions on this policy and on prevention and awareness of sexual harassment shall be held for all teachers and students in the school on an annual basis.

(Adapted from: Arnow, J. 1995. Teaching Peace. New York: Perigee Books)

Get in Touch!

If you're interested in this issue, please write to tell us your concerns. If you're involved in working to combat sexual harassment in school or in teaching about this in your language classes, please write and let us know what you're doing.

Resources for Learning More About Sexual Harrassment

Bravo, E. & Cassedy, E (1992) The 9 to 5 Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment. New York: John Wiley.

Arnow, J. (1995) Teaching Peace (Chapter 4 - Gender Fairness in the Classroom). New York: Perigee.

W.E.L.L. (Women in Education and Language Learning), c/o Linda Donan Yamanohata 1, Mizuho-cho, Nagoya 467-0802 Japan
Kip Cates
Tottori University, Koyama-cho, Tottori-shi 680-8551 Japan


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650