Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Use Your Social Power for Good

Social media is like a dream for nonprofits – it provides free, comprehensive communication directly to supporters.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.  HAVEN staff uses Facebook and LinkedIn pages, a Twitter stream, and a YouTube channel on behalf of the agency to spread factual information and to open dialogue with existing and potential supporters.  After all, it is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy place for friends to connect, right?

But instead it seems news reports about cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and downright mean virtual behavior is becoming commonplace in the social media world.  What may seem to be harmless jokes can quickly escalate to widespread and damaging untruths, insults and mudslinging.  From posting rude or inappropriate comments, pictures or videos to blasting out images of a crime in progress for entertainment purposes – social media can do more harm then good.

For whatever reason some people find satisfaction in hiding behind a profile for username and instigating conflict or shaming someone else from the safe distance that the Internet seems to allow.  I find this type of behavior appalling.  Purposely hurting someone or damaging his or her reputation.  For what?  Personal gain?  To make someone laugh?  To draw attention from your own shortcomings?

It’s wrong – plain and simple. It’s the same as purposely singling someone out in a group to insult or embarrass them and it can be even worse because it uses a far-reaching, powerful platform to amplify a harmful message.  Virtual harassment, confrontation or victim-blaming do not get turned off when the computer is powered down.  They affect peoples’ lives.

If you haven’t heard of Rehtaeh Parsons it’s not likely you will forget her after hearing how her life was affected.  Not only did four boys sexually assault her (and have yet to be charged) in November 2011; one of the boys took a photo of the assault and shared it via text message. The image spread like wildfire around her entire school.

It wasn’t long before her so-called friends, acquaintances and even people who didn’t know her took to their social networks to mock her, pass judgment and make torturous statements about the already vulnerable 15-year-old.  This intense bullying lasted for 17-months and resulted in Rehtaeh being taken off life support this past April after she hanged herself at her mother’s home.

What is wrong with our society when a girl is victimized and then SHE is shunned?  Following an already life-altering incident, Rehtaeh’s classmates and peers, the very people that are supposed to have your back, ruthlessly tore her apart.

Now is the time that the “scourge of sexual assault” should no longer swept under the rug.  If you are active on social media please harness the power of the medium that once devastated Rehtaeh to share her story.  Help her legacy be one of awareness of and an eventual end to sexual assault and harassment.

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Is sexual harassment really harmless?

By Liz Oakes, First Response/Court Advocate and Kathryn Kucyk, Prevention Education Specialist

Recently, a case coming out of Oakland University has grabbed the attention of the local and national press (editors note: and another post right here on HAVEN’s blog). Joseph Corlett, a 56-year old OU student has been removed from campus for three semesters for using a writing assignment in an English class as a chance to write explicitly about numerous female professors. If you are so inclined, you can read his journal entries here.  Corlett was found guilty of intimidating behavior, but not sexual harassment. He is not happy about the decision made by the school, so he is poised to sue. Now, let’s assume that Corlett’s actions do constitute sexual harassment (because they do). Corlett’s lawyer has drawn attention to a very pervasive myth by saying, “obviously he’s got a wild sexual imagination in some instances, but it’s not harmful.” How harmless is sexual harassment, really?

There is a simple reason why Joseph Corlett and his lawyer do not think this is a big deal: they are men. Men simply do not live in a reality where they are likely to be raped, beaten, stalked, or harassed. They do not constantly consider whether their behavior will protect them from an attacker. They do not feel threatened by every member of the opposite sex that walks down the street. Women do. And because of this, women find sexual harassment unnerving, threatening, and disrespectful. Taking all of this into account, when a woman tells you that she is intimidated, she is automatically correct. As our colleague Cara pointed out, intentions do not matter in sexual harassment. Right to free speech does not over shadow her feelings of being threatened, no matter what a harasser’s intentions are.

This is not just a case of a teacher being too sensitive and a man with a “wild sexual imagination.” Sexual harassment is condoned behavior taught to us by a culture that exploits and objectifies women’s bodies. We live in a culture where girls and women of all ages are taught to tolerate sexual harassment as a normal and inevitable part of their school or work day; as a consequence of simply walking down the street. The objects of Corlett’s desire are women who are experts in their field and who teach at an accredited university. Yet, this man has turned her into nothing but a sexual fantasy. The message to women and girls is clear: It doesn’t matter how smart, funny, successful, etc you are; what matters is how you measure up to the standard male fantasy. The frame of mind that tells a man “a woman’s body is there for me to look at and write about” can easily become “a woman’s body is public property for me to grab” or “a woman’s body is there for me to have sex with.” In this way, something as seemingly “innocent” as sexual harassment can easily turn into sexual violence.

Disrespect of women begins early. Even as early as adolescence, young women are already beginning to experience society’s disregard for women. A study last year by the American Association of College Women found that sexual harassment is prevalent for children in grades 7 through 12. 56% of girls and 40% of boys complained that they had been sexually harassed and gave examples of “unwelcome sexual comments, gestures, or jokes,” “being touched in an unwelcome way,” and “being called gay or lesbian in a negative way.” Especially disturbing is that the study found that teens who experienced sexual harassment did not want to go to school, had trouble sleeping, and often felt sick to their stomachs. And Corlett’s lawyer has the nerve to argue sexual harassment is harmless behavior?

We hope for our youth to experience some semblance of a carefree existence before adulthood. We like to believe the notion of women as sex objects are a pressure that only grown adults need to cope with. We want teenage girls to develop fun hobbies, learn about themselves, and perhaps find their first love in a safe environment. This is not a reality. Sexual harassment is prevalent early on in life. Girls as young as twelve are already being pressured to see themselves as sex objects. Boys as young as twelve are already getting the message that it’s alright to disrespect the opposite sex.

This is why these attitudes need to be confronted, and the earlier the better. At HAVEN, our Prevention Education program informs children as young as eight to avoid sexual harassment. Our “Gender Respect” program teaches third, fourth, and fifth graders that they should respect any type of gender presentation, avoid harassing behaviors such as name-calling or unwanted touching. Sixth and seventh graders are introduced to the term sexual harassment, encouraged to give examples that they see in their school or in the media, and are given tools to stop sexual harassment when it is happening to themselves or their classmates.

Our youth are our future. At HAVEN we believe that intervening with youth is the number one way to eliminate violence against women. That is why programs like HAVEN’s Prevention Education program exist, to reach out to our youth and teach them that this behavior is not OK. For more information about having a representative from HAVEN’s Prevention Education Program speak to your school, contact Cristy Cardinal, Prevention Education Director at (248) 334-1284 ext. 360.

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Opinion: Sexual harassment and Oakland University’s suspended student

By Cara Lynch, HAVEN Therapist

As Valentine’s Day was coming to a close, I followed my regular nighttime routine of getting in bed and watching the 10 o’clock news until I became either too sleepy or too angry to continue to watch. That night my emotions followed the latter as I listened to the story about a student at Oakland University who was suspended after he wrote a sexually explicit story about his professor.

No wait, let me clarify that further: he was suspended after he sexually harassed his professor. The media, of course, did not frame the story as sexual harassment. Instead they jumped at the chance to make an all-too-easy Van Halen reference and chose to frame it as a man whose sexual imagination simply got the better of him. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong, and allow me to break down why.

First of all, let’s define sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual attention that causes a person to feel intimidated, threatened, uncomfortable, or unsafe. Most people think of sexual harassment as something that happens between a boss and his/her employee, but work is not the only place that sexual harassment happens. Sexual harassment happens on the street when someone cat-calls you from a car when you are walking to catch the bus. Sexual harassment happens in public places like malls and gas stations and office buildings when someone approaches you to say how sexy your hips are and how enjoyable it is to watch you walk. Sexual harassment happens on the internet when someone sends you online messages or comments on your blog about how hot you are and how much you turn them on. And sexual harassment happens in schools and universities when a student decides to tell his professor all the sexual things he would like to do to her.

Second of all, let’s address the rebuttal that might be circulating in your head right now: But when I tell you how hot you are, it’s a compliment! Why can’t you just smile and appreciate it? Take a second look at that definition of sexual harassment and find the part that speaks to the intention of the “attention-giver.” Oh, wait, you can’t find it? That is because sexual harassment has nothing to do with a person’s intention, but instead has everything to do with how the receiver of the attention feels. All of the examples I listed above are sexual harassment because they often leave the other person feeling uncomfortable and unsafe, regardless of whether that is what someone was trying to accomplish or not. Intention does not matter.

But there’s something else hidden beneath the rebuttal of “But I didn’t mean it like that,” something much more insidious, which brings me to my third point. When someone says, “But that’s not what I meant” or “That wasn’t my intention,” the message that is actually conveyed is something more along the lines of, “You are wrong for feeling the way you do.”

When we insist that our intention of doing no harm is more important that the feelings of harm expressed to us by the other person, we are silencing them and telling them that their feelings do not matter. With regards to the incident at Oakland University, I do not claim to know exactly what this professor felt when she read those stories; I am not in her head and I do not live her life. However, it seems safe to assume that she felt threatened and uncomfortable given the fact that this particular student was found guilty of sexual harassment and intimidation by the student conduct committee.

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Sexual harassment and teens

By Beth Morrison HAVEN CEO

My heart raced. I was dreading walking down that long hallway and just wishing I could evaporate.  Each and every day from 7th grade through 12th grade, I felt this dread and had this awful moment occur over and over again.  I was enduring sexual harassment, although in the 70’s I had no idea what it was called, I just knew it was painful and wrong.

In my school the boys would line up against a long row of windows and during breaks between classes, they would “rate” the girls that walked by them daily, and often hourly. We were rated on our breast size, weight, appeal, appearance, “easiness” – you name it.  I don’t recall in the six years of experiencing this harassment, ever seeing a teacher or another student questioning it or attempting to put a stop to it.

So how much has changed since the 70’s? Apparently, not much. In a recent study released by the AAUW nearly half (48%) of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year, and the majority of those students (87%) said it had a negative effect on them.  Verbal harassment (unwelcomed sexual comments, jokes, or gestures) was the most prevalent form of harassment. 

Girls are sexually harassed more than boys, and girls’ experiences tend to be my physical and intrusive than boys’ experiences. 1/3 of girls and 1/4 of boys said that they observed sexual harassment at their schools. More than half (56%) of these students witnessed sexual harassment more than once during the school year.

Many of the students who admitted to harassing others didn’t think of it as a big deal (44%) and many were trying to be funny (39%).

So most of the victims said the harassment had a negative impact on them and nearly half of the perpetrators said it was no big deal or a joke.  When are we going to realize, across all ages, that talking inappropriately about a woman’s breast size, laughing and taunting about a person’s sexuality, talking offensively or inappropriately about sex, is NOT FUNNY!

Take Herman Cain for instance. We actually have someone running for President who believes his sense of humor is fine, that these women just can’t take a joke. In 2011.

It is time to take sexual harassment seriously. It is time that we give our children a safe place to learn and appropriate role models to surround themselves.  Let’s give our children the skills they need to be safe and the skills necessary to learn respect for those that are different from themselves. Let that be our legacy instead of handing down another bad “joke.”

To get more information about HAVEN Prevention Education presenting at your child’s school, please call (248) 334-1284 ext. 360.

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