It’s happening to your students
Vanessa looks all around before she takes a seat on the bus. Ever since she was touched inappropriately by a man on her way to school she doesn’t feel safe even when travelling in a group. Her youth worker asked why she didn’t tell the bus driver. She just shrugged.
Jill, 14, was on a mission trip watching the other team members perform a skit when a group of men in the crowd moved in around her and began to push her to the back of the crowd. She wonders what might have happened to her if she hadn’t struggled free and got back to her leader.
Ismay is sick of her jr high classroom. “Why do they always pick on me and the other girls!” she complained in small group.” She had been poked with pencils, found rude sketches with her name underneath, and received lewd comments almost daily. “Why don’t the teachers do anything about it!”
Harassment is a daily occurrence for some of your students. It happens at the mall, in classrooms and sometimes at youth meetings. Here are some things you can do to help your male and female students.
As you can tell from the headlines, celebrities and powerful men have victimized the women who worked for them. Teens also experience harassment but sometimes dismiss it. They think it is just crude male behavior. Youth ministries might also ignore it since “boys will be boys.”
I could fill pages with statistics I discovered this week about how common this problem is. Here is a sample, very much like the other statistics that are available in a quick Google search:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
- Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
- During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well (page 5).
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows 1.6 % (sixteen out of one thousand) of youth between the ages of 12-17 were victims of rape/sexual assault (page 18).
Sexual Harassment at School
A recent Ontario report found that the , with 36% of boys and 46% of girls in Grade 9 reporting that “someone made [unwanted] sexual comments, jokes, gestures or looks at me”. By Grade 11 this rate had declined significantly for boys, but remained consistent at 46% for girls (Safe Schools Action Report on Gender-based Violence, Homophobia, Sexual Harassment & Inappropriate Sexual Behavior in Schools 2008, p. 6)
A recent Ontario report found that almost one in three girls in Grade 9 stated that “someone brushed up against me in a sexual way” or “someone touched, grabbed, or pinched me in a sexual way” (Safe Schools Action Report on Gender-based Violence, Homophobia, Sexual Harassment & Inappropriate Sexual Behavior in Schools 2008, p. 6)
These kinds of behaviours are not just annoying. They constitute sexual harassment. They are not acceptable at school at a youth event, or a student’s part time job. Students need to be aware that they cannot do these kinds of things to others and that they need to report if they are happening to them.
Here’s what one teen had to say Aria, 15: http://youthradio.org/journalism/teen-voices-on-metoo/ The #MeToo campaign opened eyes for me because I have a bunch of little siblings that go to public school, and I can’t be with them all the time to take care of them. So #MeToo at first seemed like something people just made because it’s what old people talk about. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized, this could be an ongoing problem for me and the rest of my siblings.
Break the Silence
We all know that harassment has gone unreported for decades and only now some women are going public about the men who abused them. We need to encourage students to speak to us about instances where they have felt pressured or violated. Our willingness to listen can help them get the help, protection, or counsel that they need.
We are Here
Students will not report to someone that they do not trust. Close supportive relationships help students to trust that they can share with us. The message “we are here if you want to talk” will not be accepted by teens who have no relationship with a leader. Students will not share serious issues if they have never discussed everyday things with a small group leader or a volunteer. This is just one of the hundreds of reasons why every student must have a trusting relationship with at least one leader.
It’s not your fault
It is possible that a student has been made to feel that inappropriate attention, comments, or touch is her fault. They need to be reassured that nothing they are not at fault for sexual harassment or bullying. Don’t assume that they know, understand or believe this. It is important that they hear you say these words.
Your students and volunteers Need to Hear, Understand, Follow and Share These Values
Respect and Honor
Scripture is clear. We are to treat the others with respect and honor. Creating a climate of respect and honour is a challenge. It will take teaching, modelling, and reminding everyone that this is how the ministry operates. Expecting and enforcing this behaviour is everyone’s responsibility. As students learn to treat others this way at the group there more chance that they will continue to act this way at school and in the community.
Appropriate Touch may be No Touch
Some students are very uncomfortable with any kind of touch. Others long to be touched in an appropriate way by the right person. In the same way that we teach children to “keep your hands to yourself,” teens need to get permission before making contact. A hug may be the usual greeting among some friends but this is not an invitation for everyone in the group.
If the young men in the group respect the females as sisters they will not flirt with them or stare at their bodies. They will learn that this is unacceptable behavior at your group. If it happens a student should not be confronted publically but needs to be talked to by their small group leader or a volunteer who knows them well.
If your group has boundaries like females pray only with females or that side hugs are acceptable and bear hugs are not, these need to be shared with the whole group. Repeat these guidelines from time to time. These will be important for leaders and volunteers to model to the students.
For the Youth Worker
It is likely that there are students in your group who have been harassed or possibly assaulted. I have had calls and emails from youth workers saying that a student molested another student or a student had been abused by a family member. Here are some considerations about #metoo and you.
Always inform students that you may have to report to a parent or authorities but you will get their approval to do so. Don’t promise a student that you won’t tell. Legally it is not a promise you can keep in some situations.
When to Report
In most states and Canadian provinces you are required to report cases of sexual assault or abuse. One youth worker I know recently dealt with a student who was stalking another student. I have had to intervene where a student was sending inappropriate texts. Reporting in these circumstances is less clear. Please consult the authorities in your area to get a clear understanding of the law.
The other kind of reporting is to the parents or to the leaders. If a student is being harassed the parents need to know. Leaders may need to be aware of a situation to help protect a student.
When to Refer
If a student has been assaulted, along with the reporting, support needs to be given to the student by a trained counselor. While you can offer support, counseling for the trauma needs to take place so that they can heal. It would be wise to develop a list of trusted counselors in your area who able to help students who you work with.
You Are Making a Difference
As you know this is very little about a significant problem. If the statistics are reliable your up to a quarter of your students have experienced some form of harassment. Please take the time to study up on this and be familiar with the signs of sexual harassment in your students. Watch carefully to be sure that none of yours students victimize other students. Do all that you can to foster relationships where students are able to share their stories about bullying or abuse. There will be students who will never share but the more we do to make sure that no harm happens in our ministries and students have caring leaders who are willing to listen, more students will be helped.