Originally published in the Mesa Tribune Sunday, October 25, 2009
Have you ever felt the sting of sexual harassment? I’ve always felt that as a society, we haven’t taken very good care of our little girls. In general terms, trauma creates fear; fear creates controlling behaviors from the traumatized, oftentimes resulting in a fear of intimacy, one of the leading causes of relational conflict and ultimately divorce. Long-term data consistently demonstrates the above from a wide spectrum of sociological and psychological sources.
Researchers from the University of Southern Maine showcased a study in the journal, “Sex Roles”, July2008, indicated an alarming statistic: 35% of 522 students aged 11 to 18 reported being sexually harassed. This is, however, not an entirely new phenomena. A1993 study entitled, “Hostile Hallways” surveyed 1,600 students, 8th through 11th grades, indicated 83% of these girls experienced sexual harassment. Research shows that the younger the child, the more impactful and traumatic the experience.
As a behavioral health provider and psychotherapist, I’m appalled at the sexual violence in our schools and that’s exactly what sexual harassment is. Nan Stein, research scientist and author would agree. “We have a lot of sexual violence going on in school and it’s happening at younger and younger ages”. As previously mentioned, the data is prolific.
Parents with daughters in elementary and high school know of these truths. Our educational institutions have a wide range of policy from the mindlessness of zero tolerance where the only lesson appears to be: don’t get caught, to more progressive approaches, inclusive of open, honest dialogue between students, parents and educators. We are, after all, there to teach and teaching appropriate boundaries is about respect, for self and others. Both educators and parents need to understand: there is no avoiding uncomfortable conversations. It is here that we must lead by example. There also are no excuses, including budgetary constraints and time limitations.
This dialogue is more than a teaching moment, it is verification of the love that must manifest itself in these crucial, primary relationships. We either take the time….or we don’t. Common sense, real world,inclusive choices must be made. We educate about the dangers of children around backyard swimming pools and the vigilance necessary. Repeated sexual harassment can lead to low self-esteem and eventually self loathing. How about “good touch, bad touch” and the security that defining and implementing appropriate sexual boundaries provides? As adults, we need to push ourselves past our own discomfort…and now. Daddy’s little girl deserves it.
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