Sexual harassment in education is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that impedes the student’s ability to learn, study, work or participate in school activities. In the U.S., it is a form of discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Sexual harassment involves a range of behavior from mild annoyances to sexual assault and rape.
Most sexual harassment is peer-peer, but sexual harassment by teachers and other school employees has also been reported. While sexual harassment is legally defined as “unwanted” behavior, many experts agree that even consensual sexual interactions between students and teachers is considered harassment because the power differential creates a dynamic in which “mutual consent” is impossible.
Effects of Sexual Harassment in Education
- Sexual harassment by teachers
After her experience as a student with Harold Bloom, Naomi Wolf wrote, “I was spiraling downward; I had gotten a C-, a D, and an F, and was put on academic probation. My confidence shaken, I failed in my effort to win the Rhodes Scholarship at the end of the term….Once you have been sexually encroached upon by a professor, your faith in your work corrodes. If the administration knew and did nothing—because the teacher was valuable to them—they had made a conscious calculation about his and our respective futures: It was okay to do nothing because I—and other young women who could be expected to remain silent—would never be worth what someone like Bloom was worth.” Of the effects she now struggles with so many years later, she writes, “Keeping bad secrets hurts. Is a one-time sexual encroachment …a major secret or a minor one? Minor, when it comes to a practical effect on my life; I have obviously survived. This is the argument often made against accusers in sexual-harassment cases: Look, no big deal, you’re fine. My career was fine; my soul was not fine.”
- The gender double standard
There is a myth about the extent of the damage caused by women who sexually abuse or harass. In an interview about the rise of sexual abuse by female teachers, Dr. Jeff Brown, a psychologist who treats female sex offenders stated, “There is definitely a double standard…..The impact they have is significant on their victims and sometimes we don’t regard the impact in a similar way as we do men.” Moreover, female teachers who sexually harass or abuse students are consistently given significantly lighter penalties or reprimands then males who engage in the exact same behaviors.
It has been argued that the effects of pupil-teacher sexual harassment vary depending on the gender of the student and the harasser. In some states in the U.S., sexual relations between a woman and an underage male did not even constitute statutory rape until the 1970s. Many assert that most boys would be happy to have a teacher reveal sexual interest in them. Others say that this is short-sighted, and the seriousness of the long-term effects far out-weight any immediate gratification. Experts say sexually victimized boys experience challenges later in developing age-appropriate relationships and gravitate toward pornography and one-night stands. They are also more likely as adults to suffer depression, anxiety and drug addiction. The 16-year-old boy in California who had an affair with his 30 year old teacher proclaimed in a letter to the court, “I’m not the same boy.” According to the boy’s mother, he was so traumatized that his hair was falling out. “(She) took away my best friend, my hunting buddy. I can’t have him back now. He is gone, “ proclaimed the father of a teenage boy molested by a teacher who held drug-alcohol-and-sex parties at her home.