Tackling Sexual Harassment in Memphis City Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

The Menace of Sexual Harassment in Memphis Schools 
Mention the words “sexual harassment” and images of leering executives making lewd comments to or in the presence of co-workers or employees comes to mind.  We tend to associate sexual harassment as an adult phenomenon; the kind that gets men – and in rare cases women – in deep trouble, or at the very least leaves them with a lighter wallet.  We don’t associate it with young students in schools. 
There is enough evidence to show that we should, at least where Memphis City schools are concerned.  The statistics speak for themselves.  Studies conducted by Girls for Change a program founded through the initiatives of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, Center for Research on Women and the University of Memphis Women Studies program, has found shockingly high rates of sexual harassment against girls in the Memphis schools. 
The girls surveyed were between the ages of 13 to 17 and were middle or high schoolers in Memphis schools.  Close to 76% reported either being the victim of harassment or having witnessed harassment in some form at school.  Most of the students surveyed – close to 92% - belonged to Memphis public schools and at least 86% of the victims were African Americans.  The mean age of the girls surveyed  was 13.88 years. 
Sexual Harassment in Memphis Schools is not Merely Bullying 
We tend to think of instances of girls being teased or called names at school as bullying and, according to experts who are concerned at the effects of such harassment on girls in Memphis schools, we need to draw the line between bullying and sexual harassment.  According to available data from the 2005 Youth Risk Behavioral survey, the incidences of sexual relationships, forced or otherwise, in Memphis schools are higher than the national average.  Not only this, students at Memphis schools are more likely to have multiple partners, or become pregnant or impregnate a partner than their peers elsewhere in the country.  The Memphis Area Women’s Council together with the Center for Research on Women is working on establishing the relationship between the high prevalence of sexual harassment in Memphis schools and the increased incidence of premature sexual activity in students.
Sexual Harassment and its Effects on Students in Memphis Schools 
Sexual harassment in Memphis schools can take many forms – it can be in the form of spreading malicious rumors about a student, making unwanted phone calls or sending explicit emails, name calling, offensive jokes, and graffiti. In its virulent display, perpetrators may be emboldened enough to pinch, grab, snap bras, pull down skirts and engage in other behavior that aimed to humiliate the victim.  The Memphis Girls for Change Program focuses on empowering girl students of Memphis schools and equipping them to deal with such instances in a school environment that’s very often a mute spectator.