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Girls’ Attitudes to harassment

Back in 2008 I shared the excellent GirlGuiding UK report on Teenage Mental Health: Guiding The Way. 

This week I want to share some of the findings of this organisation’s latest report on what girls say about equality.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 8.38.18 AM

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 9.36.08 AMFirstly, the report makes it very clear there is still much to be done. Figures like the ones shared here on sexism and sexual harassment are based on a survey conducted with 1,288 girls aged between 11 and 21. The results absolutely reflect the experiences of the many thousands of girls we at Enlighten work with here in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and are supported by the concerns both parents and educators share with us too.

But it was this research collated on sexual harassment that I think we urgently need to explore further:

The majority of girls and young women experience gender-based harassment, starting when they are at school.

Girls aged 11 to 21 are as likely to be exposed to harassment at school as on the street: 60% have had comments shouted at them about their appearance at school and 62% have been shouted or whistled at on the street (rising to 76% of 16- to 21-year-olds). This behaviour has a clear impact on girls’ sense of safety – 78% aged 11 to 21 find it threatening to be shouted or whistled at if they are on their own. It also affects younger girls, with a third aged 7 to 11 having experienced such harassment at school (31%).

Among girls aged 13 and over, seven out of ten have experienced more intrusive forms of sexual harassment at school or college. Half have experienced sexual jokes or taunts (51%), four in ten have seen images of girls or women that made them feel uncomfortable (39%), a third report seeing rude or obscene graffiti about girls or women (33%), and over a quarter say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention (28%), unwanted touching (28%) or unwanted attention or stalking (26%). Exposure to sexual harassment increases sharply with age – just over half of 13-year-olds report experiencing such behaviour (54%), rising to 80% of 19- to 21-year-olds.

Co-incidently, only this week I received an email from a young girl from a school here in Sydney:

Hello Dannielle.. I’ve met you a few times and I even got a signed book from you and I think you’re absolutely empowering and inspiring woman. I really need your help today though. I’ve started noticing that teen boys at my school have become quite.. invasive towards girls and at times just plain rude. I know that some say it’s just boys being boys but I find it quite appalling, all girls deserve respect. Even some of my friends have been affected by this and it’s come to the point where I have just had enough and I’m not sure what to do. I want to help solve this but I’m not sure how to do it without coming off too forceful and rude…

Girls need to know what is ok, what isn’t, and how to respond. Nina touched on the need to equip girls to know how to set boundaries and respond assertively to harassment in this excellent interview she gave on Sunrise about our latest book, Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships. 

Many young women tell me that it is through a collective response that they feel they can make the most impact – hence they are drawn to feminism. Teen girl Lilly Edelstein shared her story of on-line harassment, and her desire to build a strong community of women who could make a stand, with me recently: Reclaim The Night. In our workshop on Real Girl Power we too find girls find a powerful collective voice and learn that together they are a force to be reckoned with. The teen girls at a school I worked at in early 2012 in Sydney were so inspired by Real Girl Power that, at lunchtime, a group of them waltzed up to a particularly sexist boy in their year group. Samantha, the group’s nominated spokeswoman, told him, ‘You always like to say, “Go make me a sandwich,” whenever we say something you don’t agree with in class. Guess what? There will be no sandwiches for you. And you don’t have to like what we say, but you do need to listen. If you try to dismiss us again, we are all going to start clapping loudly every time you speak. It’s going to really shine the spotlight on you, and we’re not sure you’re going to like that.’ There were no more orders for sandwiches, Samantha emailed to tell me. And we realised that collectively, we were strong. You could see the fear in all the boys’ eyes after that … LOL. I loved that this made her laugh – there is indeed a joy in claiming one’s power.

But frankly I am irritated the onus seems to always be on young women (the victims) to deal with this. Schools should be safe places for all students and they must make a collective strong stance against all forms of harassment. I’ve discussed this at my blog before: Facing up to sexual harassment in schools.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, a good school sexual harassment policy includes:

  • A strong statement on the school’s attitude to sexual harassment
  • An outline of the school’s objectives regarding sexual harassment
  • A plain English definition of sexual harassment
  • A definition of what sexual harassment is not
  • A statement that sexual harassment is against the law
  • Possible consequences if the sexual harassment policy is breached
  • Options available for dealing with sexual harassment
  • Where to get help or advice.

The Human Rights Commission stresses that a written policy is not enough. Ask yourself:

  • Are people aware of the policy? Do they have a copy of it?
  • Is it provided to new staff and students?
  • Is it periodically reviewed? It is available in appropriate languages?
  • Are there training and awareness-related strategies associated with the policy?

Also, we urgently need to do more work with boys too. As Nina said in the interview above, writing the Guide for boys may well be our “Plan B.” Nina and I both also now run workshops for young men on issues like gender stereotypes, combatting violence against women, and what defines masculinity. But really, we also need good men to stand up now. I’ve posted some excellent videos featuring men who urge for this to happen in the past and these are worth a visit and a share:

I’m Sorry Anna Nicole 

Sydney Boy’s High School Gender Equality Project 

and perhaps my favourite – Violence Against Women – It’s A Men’s Issue.

 

Bullying: It’s time to focus on solutions

Australia made a step in the right direction last week with the first-ever National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Kerri-anne Kennerly took a huge personal interest in the cause and pushed to discuss bullying at length on her show.

I went along with my beautiful, brave and articulate 16-year-old step-daughter, Jazmine, who spoke about her experiences of being bullied, as did another teen, James. Tess Nelson spoke for her son, Dakota.

Kudos must go to Kerri-anne for extending the story to more than 9 minutes, which for breakfast TV is a double segment. The piece raised awareness of the seriousness of bullying and it gave voice to the experiences of the victims of bullying, which I think is very important.

But ever since the segment finished, I have been bursting to take the discussion further. In this post, I want to go beyond the “what, where and why” and discuss the issue that will really make a difference to kids’ lives: how to stop bullying.

What schools can do

We all need a whole-school culture that makes it clear bullying will not be tolerated. Steps that I have seen work in schools include:

  • strong peer-support programs, where older children buddy up with younger ones and look out for them
  • a zero-tolerance approach to any bullying incident
  • celebrations of difference, such as school multicultural days, gender awareness programs, anti-homophobia initiatives
  • getting the local police youth liaison officer in to discuss the topic with students, which the police are more than happy to do.

Bystanders, take a stand

I think the National Day of Action organisers got it right when they chose to focus this year on encouraging bystanders to do more to stop bullying. Let’s consider the video that recently did the rounds on YouTube of a NSW teen boy throwing another boy to the ground in retaliation for bullying. The teen had been subjected to bullying for years and tried to turn the other cheek—until on this day, in his own words, he “snapped”.

I was disturbed that many in the media portrayed the bullied boy as a hero for fighting back. A Current Affair noted that he had “finally stood up for himself”, as though up until then he’d been somehow morally weak and that the only true way to stand up for yourself is to use physical force.

I empathise with the boy who had been bullied, victimised and assaulted repeatedly before retaliating. But I think if we want to use the word “hero”, we should look at the girl at the end of the video. After the assaults, a friend of the bully comes forward to retaliate against the assault on the bully. The girl walks over and stands between them and assertively tells the bully’s friend to back off.

One of the things that alarmed me in that video was the number of bystanders doing nothing or, worse still, filming the violence. The standard we walk past is the standard we set. That girl was amazing. The fact that she came forward to stop the violence in a nonviolent way is to be celebrated—and encouraged in all schools.

Teachers are of course responsible for doing everything they can to stop bullying—but the reality is that in 85% of cases, bullying takes place when there are no adults around. That’s why it is so important to create a school culture in which bullying is not tolerated and bystanders are encouraged to step up and say “It’s not on!”

Get real about bullying

Even today there are still some people who think bullying is just harmless name calling. Bullying takes numerous serious forms:

  • verbal—name calling, teasing, verbal abuse, humiliation, sarcasm, insults, threats
  • physical—punching, kicking, scratching, tripping, spitting
  • social—ignoring, excluding, alienating, making inappropriate gestures
  • psychological—spreading rumours, glaring, hiding or damaging possessions, malicious texts, email messages or Facebook comments, inappropriate use of camera phones.

All are very damaging.

Know the signs

I interviewed the Police Youth Liaison Officer at Castle Hill in Sydney, Senior Constable Rob Patterson, to find out more about bullying. He told me that his number one piece of advice to kids who are being bullied is: “Tell someone, and if they don’t listen, tell someone else.”

That this advice is even necessary highlights the sad fact that few children who are being bullied actually tell an adult about it. In fact, the father of the boy in the video who retaliated against bullying told A Current Affair: “I didn’t realise how much trouble he was actually in until I’d seen that video . . . you poor little bloke, how many years did you put up with this sort of treatment?”

That means it’s important for teachers and parents to be aware of the signs, such as:

  • refusing to go to school
  • a drop in academic performance
  • changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • bruises, scratches and other injuries
  • changes in personality, e.g., becoming withdrawn or angry.

Call bullying what it really is

Senior Constable Patterson noted that the police and legal system tend not to use the term “bullying”, because it softens people’s perception of offences that may be very serious. The police call bullies’ offences what they really are, using terms such as “assault”, “intimidation” and “online harassment”. If we also begin using the correct terms for these offences, we will begin to acknowledge the serious impacts that bullying has on victims and send a clearer signal to bullies that their actions won’t be tolerated any more.

What parents can do

If you notice signs that your child might be the victim of bullying, raise your concerns sensitively with them. Most important of all, listen and get all the facts, then work with the school to try and resolve the situation.

If you feel that the school isn’t doing enough, go to the police. Senior Constable Patterson noted that the police usually contact the school as a first step and this may spur the school to take further action.

“Don’t forget that it is a criminal offence to make another person scared for their safety and the police can—and do—get involved. Daily,” Senior Constable Patterson told me. However, he stressed that it is important to have evidence, as one of the most common reasons that a school fails to take legal action is that they don’t have proof of the offence. In the absence of evidence, he recommends that parents encourage their children to ask witnesses of the bullying to write down what they saw.

Court action is not the only police solution. They may first seek another way of resolving the bullying—for instance, a talk with the police is often enough of a warning to a bully that they need to stop.

Ultimately, if you’ve tried everything, you’re not satisfied that your child is safe from bullying and they are still miserable—move schools! Many kids thrive with a fresh start.

Set a good example

All the anti-bullying campaigns in the world won’t make a difference if children are surrounded by examples of adult discrimination and bullying. This means it is important to remember to never make negative comments about other people’s race, gender, sexuality, weight, appearance, name, accent, voice and so on.

Bullies need us, too

I also want to emphasise another reason for putting a stop to bullying: the need to improve outcomes for the bullies themselves. There is ample research to show that bullies are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol and engage in criminal behaviour. They have a one in four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 30. Bullies need intervention by schools, parents and the community to help them curb their aggression.

Helpful resources

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