Sexual Harassment is a common topic in the news at present, including in the school district. Right now at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), the counselor of the school faces charges of sexual assault against a seventeen year old student.
Because of these allegations happening both nationally and locally, many are starting to address the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. People are also trying to understand what exactly sexual harassment is, and how to handle it.
One of the big challenges in addressing this issue is that, due to the taboo nature of the topic, people have different definitions of what sexual harassment is. Many have disputed what “the line” is when it comes to this behavior. It’s important to remember that people take certain actions and certain statements more personally than others.
Health and physical education teacher Pia Martin shared her definition of what sexual harassment is stating:
“I think sexual harassment is a very broad term and that usually the definition for me is, unwanted attention of a sexual nature — so it can be physical or verbal, but it’s on the person’s perception of unwanted attention.”
Counselor Zoe Siswick is in her ninth year working at Science Leadership Academy so she has encountered students who have asked her advice about how to handle situations like sexual harassment.
“I think it is tough to define because there is such a range of what it can look like and to some extent it comes down to what the person feels, do they feel harassed?”
Sophomore Sanaa Scott-Wheeler defined sexual harassment as “when someone starts to have any form of engagement with you or interaction with you that you’re not comfortable with that violates some personal laws that you have.”
In order to understand what it’s like to be sexually harassed, people need to be exposed to people’s encounters with sexual harassment.
Senior Deja Harrison explored this topic last year when she wrote about catcalling for SLAMedia. “I get off of public transportation. I pretty much see people everyday and I’m around people every day. So someone almost always says something, whether it’s about my body or if it’s about what I have on and stuff like that,” she explained.
“It’s an everyday thing. One time someone pulled my bookbag. I said ‘ I don’t even know you,’ and they said ‘I just wanted to talk to you.”’
Scott-Wheeler had a similar story.
“I was walking home and there was this guy who made eye contact with me on the train but I didn’t make anything of it. So I walked off the train and started walking home and he was walking in front of me. He started slurring his words together and wasn’t walking stable and he was talking to someone on the phone. Then he started saying ‘Ay yo shawty, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful.’ He was about seventeen or eighteen.”
Scott-Wheeler stated that the man continued to follow her and hit on her even though she tried to ignore him and try to get away from him.
Numerous female students have confirmed that they experience or witness sexual harassment in their communities. But what about inside SLA?
“There have been people who have tried to talk to me and I’ll say no, but they’ll still pursue me and I kinda take it as a joke because we’re kids,” Harrison explained.
Most of the other interviewees stated that they haven’t been sexual harrased or have encountered sexual harassment in SLA. Ms. Siswick stated that their has never been a case of sexual harassment between a student and a teacher.
Junior Julia Hood stated that the very thought of potential harassment influences her behavior.
“I feel more aware. I’m a lot more aware of my surroundings since my experience, especially at night. Especially when I’m alone.”
Since, sexual harassment can be classified as many things, teachers acknowledged that each incident may need its own kind of reaction.
“I think the biggest thing is to tell someone and the best thing is to find people who can support you, whether that is supporting you by making it stop or help discipline the person who it happens to. Unfortunately there are situations where you can’t make it stop but you can have someone or people to talk to, to make you feel a little more better about it.” Ms. Siswick stated.
“They should be clear that it’s sexual harassment, and that they don’t own that, and that’s something that was done to them and they should feel comfortable where they could take it to a level where they feel comfortable. If I need to ignore, ignore it. If I need to take legal action, take legal action. If I need to talk it out, talk it out. If I need to confront, confront. They need the skills to make a comfortable, safe space,” Ms. Martin stated.
“That’s your face, that’s your body and I don’t think that you should feel that you should cover it up, I don’t think you should change for getting attention for it…you should be you.” Deja Harrison stated.