Avni, Clara, and Lili are high school seniors interested in expanding the Girl Alliance. While still working hard to maintain the regular functions of the company, the three girls are interested in expanding resources available to teens at school, as well as developing tools to identify and report harassment.
What does sexual harassment look like among teenagers? Online?
What current adult-made solutions exist?
How does today’s teen dating culture connect to the global conversation about the #MeToo movement?
Global and Local Community Connection
35% of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence
75% of americans between 13-17 use Snapchat
In 2012, a study found that nearly 70% of high school aged girls have been asked to send nudes, with 90% at least a little bothered by the request
At least 25 percent of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Seventy-five percent of harassment victims experienced retaliation when they reported it.
Somewhere between 87 and 94 percent of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint.
For many young people, harassment is a normal part of the beginning stages of a relationship, thus countless teens struggle with identifying such actions, specifically when using online platforms.
We plan to survey students at Austin High School to find 1) what students classify as sexual harassment, 2) when they'd be willing to report it, and 3) how they'd want to report it. This will help us design the most appropriate and effective take action plan.
1: Pew Research Center
Fig 1 Notes: "Students were asked if they had experienced any of 10 types of sexual harassment since the beginning of the school year. Bold numbers indicate statistically significant gender differences at the 95 percent level. Base=survey respondents (n=1,965 students), 1,002 girls and 963 boys in grades 7–12." - AAUW sexual harassment survey, May–June 2011.
Fig 3 Notes: "Bold numbers indicate statistically significant gender differences at the 95 percent level. Base=survey respondents (n = 1,965 students), 1,002 girls and 963 boys in grades 7–12." - AAUW sexual harassment survey, May–June 2011.
48 percent of middle school students surveyed in an AAUW survey experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year
Online sexual harassment affected about one-third of students. Many of the students who were sexually harassed online were also sexually harassed in person.
Girls were much more likely than boys to be sexually harassed on all platforms (in real life physically and verbally as well as online). Girls also reported at higher rates that harassment was more likely to negatively affect their sleep, keep them home from school, and have them change how they got to and from school.
In Nancy Jo Sales’ new book, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, the author accurately explains the prevalence of social media in teens’ lives and the tha normalization of harassment in teen culture. In an interview with the New York Post, Sales said this on the topic.
Notes Fig 10 and 11: "Notes: Bold numbers indicate statistically signicant gender dierences at the 95 percent level. Base=survey respondents who indicated that they had experienced a negative impact from being sexually harassed since the beginning of the school year (n=804 students), 484 girls and 320 boys in grades 7–12." - AAUW sexual harassment survey
Coming from an all girls middle school, the concept of online sexual harassment was totally new to me. When I realized how prevalent and normalized this problem was, I started Girl Alliance to help teen girls confidently recognize and handle online sexual harassment. As a high schoolers ourselves, the Girl Alliance team realizes that in order to effectively create a cultural shift towards healthier romantic relationships, our method has to appeal to other teenagers; it has to be cool. I also realize that there are plenty of resources and organizations available to help girls, so we hope to bridge that connection gap.
I have always been very passionate about womens rights issues, so when avni approached me to be an ambassador for her company I was very excited. I went to a very small all-girls school until high school, when I started at AHS I started thinking about how new social media such as snapchat was impacting myself and my peers. How one can deal with little to no consequences for what they say and how they act online. These are issues that are very difficult to talk about because of the cultural divide that exists between us and our parents. Many adults dont feel comfortable talking kids about sex, which creates an environment where we have to learn to navigate online sexuality without any guidance. Opening up the conversation about sex between parents and children will be instrumental in creating a healthier environment online.
At this moment in time communities need to start talking about relationships and sexuality because when we don’t, unhealthy and unsafe practices develop. I want to let teens know that online sexual harassment is not part of a healthy relationship with someone. I also hope that by starting a sustained conversation about all types of sexual harassment, we can help identify harassers and patterns of behavior. If enough young people are informed, then hopefully we can help create major change that will truly empower us all.
Cherry Whipple, US History Teacher
Barri Rosenbluth, SAFE, creator of AISD's harassment reporting form
Sherri Patton-Grub, Austin High Crisis Counselor
Teenagers - Most teenagers are beginning to recognize that a problem exists. Many teens don't report harassment because they feel online sexual harassment is not serious enough to be reported or that they will experience social consequences for reporting it. In many cases however, online harassment can escalate to physical harassment and leave harmful effects on a student.
Teachers and School Administrators- They also recognize the issue as a serious one, but hope to encourage young people to talk about healthy relationships themselves. School counselors have the resources to aid students, but sometimes have difficulty encouraging students to use them. Teachers can also be incredibly supportive for victims, and be a strong voice in changing student's opinions about what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn't.
Parents - Parents see cyber sexual harassment as a huge issue, but may not realize this issue affects their own child. Being online, it can be very difficult to monitor. Additionally, because online sexual harassment is a generationally new issue, parents may feel unprepared to talk to their child about it or may have trouble empathizing with them.
Various news sources talk a lot about online sexual harassment by teens. Our school also provides information about the topic during advisory. But I wonder if teenagers are not taking online sexual harassment seriously because I am not hearing students talk about it as much as I am hearing adults talk about it. Why are students not coming forward more frequently and strongly against the harassment? Why are students not becoming more a part of the conversation?"
"We at the Girls Empowerment Network believe that sexual harassment online is a significant problem facing today’s teenage girls. As a response to this problem we have written curriculum focused on both social media safety and assertive communication. Through these confidence-building modules we emphasize that life is more than likes, and we strive to teach girls how to connect and express effectively."
"We created for a training called Ending Harassment… to make reporting easier and to increase effective responding. We provided it this summer to AHS faculty and administrators and will try to get other high schools to use it. If you want you can build onto this effort with your capstone project."
"Many parents want to help their children stand up to harassment, but are not aware of the issue's complexity and therefore struggle to best support their child."
Harvard Graduate School of Education recently released the report, Making Caring Common, in which they conducted a national survey of 18- to 25-year-olds, asking them about their experience with sexual harassment. "76% of the respondents reported never having had a conversation with an adult about how to avoid sexually harassing others". Clearly, we can do better, with what seems like very little effort. Let's start having the conversation.
AAUW - Crossing the Line Study
“The ability to post things online and not be caught and disciplined allows for boys and girls to sexual each others' bodies in a way that makes that person uncomfortable.”
“Guys think its okay that after having one conversation it is okay to ask for nudes, and if you say no, they get upset and pressure you into doing it.”
“Sometimes it feels like you can't say no because there's a lot of pestering and expectations, but I've felt more empowered [recently] to say no. It's so easy to harass people online because you can just send things over and over and stay nameless and faceless; it's more embarrassing to do it in person.”
“I've seen people objectify what women will post and saying terrible things without thinking about the impact of what they are saying- just saying it to say it.”
“There's so much online sexual harassment because people feel like they can get away with it and hide it under the rug. It’s an issue because the internet came about when we were kids, so we've been used to it our whole lives. It's gotten more and more common, and instead of actually speaking up, no one does. Because no one realizes it's not normal. Whether you say 'yes' or you say 'no' to sending nudes, you feel like a terrible person.”
“Online sexual harassment is so normal in high school. I’ve seen many of my friends do it with no consequences. I didn’t even know sending and collecting nudes (as a minor) was a felony until recently.”
Grace Potter, senior at Austin High School
Noah Pastor, senior at Austin High School
Areli Delgado, senior at Austin High School
Connor Joos, senior at Austin High School
Kendall Miller, senior at Austin High School
Augusto Guajardo, senior at Austin High School
Very small percentages of teens (three and six percent respectively) said that the reason why they harassed someone online was because of wanting to date or believing the victim enjoyed it. The most concerning motivators were that it was a normal part of life and that the harasser believed it was funny. Thus, data supports that sexual harassment is not a compliment, as many believe, but instead a tool for degradation. It is easy to gather from these sources that behaviors demonstrated by online harassers, if left unchecked, can easily lead to further dehumanization later on.
While most high school teens who own cell phones are aware of the issue, they themselves are likely not capable of recognizing and dealing with online harassment because they may not have been prepared by their parents or school. Asking for nudes as flirting is also seen as a normal part of the teenage dating culture, so they are unlikely to seek help from counselors who have resources to help them. Because online sexual harassment is a new form of harassment among teens, many parents are also not aware or not prepared to deal with this issue.
A very strong influence on older members of the discussion surrounding online sexual harassment is that those individuals did not grow up with the internet. For parents and many teachers, social media as we know it did not exist until they were fully grown; thus their dating culture was formed around non-digital interaction. If expectations had been hashed out by previous users, then maybe online harassment would not be nearly as prevalent or misunderstood.
Girls Empowerment Network
Arati Singh, parent and AISD school board member
Our first goal is to spread awareness. By communicating with a diverse audience, we will be able to explain what online sexual harassment among teens even looks like, why adult made solutions don’t cut it, and why the #MeToo Movement starts in middle and high school. We hope to provide a variety of actions plans, such as connections to partnering organizations, opportunities to buy Girl Alliance stickers, and places to volunteer for community members of all ages to help combat online sexual harassment.
Identifying the Problem
Online sexual harassment, specifically boys asking girls to send nudes as flirting, is often not seen as sexual harassment, and has therefore become normalized. Unfortunately, online behaviors can often escalate to occur in person.
The current reporting method for harassment typically consists of an extremely broad reporting form on school websites. However, many teen girls don't recognize the harassment they're experiencing in the first place, and, if they do, are afraid of the social consequences of reporting it.
High school is a breeding ground for future sexual harassers and #MeToo victims. If boys are asking for nudes in high school, imagine what they might ask of their coworkers in the workplace?
We decided to focus on Plan 1 and adapt Dr. Reardon’s “Spectrum of Sexual Misconduct at Work” to the high school setting. Crush or Creep: a guide to sexual harassment identifies behavior and comments as friendly or flirting versus sexual harassment. The guide also encourages students to find their own boundaries because we know every situation is different. After developing a first draft, we sent out a survey to as many high schoolers as possible to get their feedback. After integrating their feedback, we communicated with Austin High’s crisis counselor and Principal Amy Taylor to get their feedback and the green light on our project. With their approval, I ran our final draft by Dr. Kathleen Reardon, who created the Spectrum of Sexual Misconduct at Work. We had already been in contact before this year, and she was thrilled to help us. With her feedback, we have printed colored copies of the guide, posted them in several school bathrooms, hope to distribute laminated versions next week to teachers.
Our second plan, to create an anonymous harassment reporting form for the district, was difficult to achieve and we pivoted. We realized that in order to get adults on board with our mission, we first needed to spread awareness that this issue even exists. Following the #MeToo Movement and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, we believed we had a unique opportunity to draw the connection between these events and high schoolers today and be listened to. We created a documentary to emphasize that regardless of the changes (or lack thereof) on the national, cultural, and political scale, high school is still a breeding ground for future sexual harassers and we must stop the root problem.
I believe that our take action was successful in preliminary efforts to change online communication between young people. Our contribution to the identification of harassment is extremely helpful, mostly because we used real teen experiences and feedback from a variety of youth sources. We’ve discovered that the only way to change the epidemic of mistreatment via cell phone is to slowly change mindsets and begin a conversation about dating and relationships among teens. By beginning this communication we are encouraging teens to start building healthy boundaries for themselves and others. Because we included our classmates as well as high schoolers from a variety of states, we are slowly nudging people toward thinking about their online impact and how they use various forms of communication in relation to bullying and harassment. One of the most important parts we kept in mind throughout the entirety of our capstone was that change in cases like these is slow because of how teen dating culture has been molded to include harassment as normal behavior. I believe that my expectations for the project’s impact is on par with out results, because of this realization.
Initially, we had the ambitious goal of changing the high school reporting form to be anonymous and more inclusive. We quickly realized that this would take months to accomplish, and we would be stalled by the ongoing school board elections. We pivoted and decided to continue with the spectrum idea as well as create a documentary piece about our project. This somewhat changed our communication strategies, because our interactions with adults were cut down significantly. We did stay in close contact with the crisis counselor, our principal, and parts of the security team in order to make sure our spectrum was school appropriate as well as ensure that we could circulate it within the school. Of course, we maintained close communication with our peers, and frequently asked them to review pieces of our project. We were careful to include males in this portion of the review, because we intentionally created it to be accessible to all teens. One of our largest portions of this section was our output of the spectrums within our community. We decided to print and then distribute them to our peers in public spaces. This could possibly spark internal reflection, exploration, and an overall change in the acceptability of online harassment.
Through my work on our capstone, and Girl Alliance as a whole, I have learned that change regarding integral parts of communication is time consuming, gruelling, and slow. Most young people are reluctant to change their online behavior because of how easy it is to not face consequences. Through this, I’ve learned to stay positive, even when change feels impossible, frustratingly slow, or bureaucratic. This is something that is very useful for any future large or public institutions I may be a part of. We fought hard to advocate for ourselves and other young people, and it payed off. If I could do this over again I would have spent less time on the reporting form and more time creating our movie. We found out that the reporting form was near impossible later than we would have liked, and we could have allocated our time and energy differently if we had known this.
My group had an impact on the issue of sexual harassment on a local level in helping the girls and boys that see our flyers and our video to identify sexual harassment they have experienced and validate those experiences. We were initially hoping to change the reporting system for sexual harassment in aisd, but we decided instead to focus on the teenage side of this issue and help people gain the confidence to actually report incidents. So our expectations for this project were a little bit greater than what we ended up being able to accomplish.
We were in communication with many different people for this project including Ms. Patton-Grub the crisis counselor and Amy Taylor. Our group had really good communication because we are all passionate about this issue and we were comfortable being honest with one another. However, I do think that if we had been more aggressive in our communication with the administration, we could have gotten more done within aisd.
I learned so much in this project about high schoolers and the way they communicate, specifically through social media. I learned persistence and how to put in hard work. I also learned more about how frustrating it can be to get things done in a bureaucracy. If I did this project again, I would want to take this class in the spring semester so we would have more time, but I also wish I had been more aware of the time we did have and worked harder to get stuff done in a timely manner.
I’m really proud of the work we did. We identified specific challenges under the umbrella of sexual harassment and addressed them in a teen friendly way. Initially, we targeted these two problems: 1) teens may not realize what they’re experiencing is sexual harassment, and 2) teens are reluctant to report it. Crush or Creep: a guide to sexual harassment helps teens locally, at Austin High. Our documentary will reach even further because we have posted it on social media and plan to share it with stakeholders.
Communication and feedback were crucial for this project. We sent out multiple surveys to high schoolers, communicated with Austin High’s crisis counselor and Principal, and got the stamp of approval from Dr. Kathleen Reardon. Her guide inspired us to make our own for teens, so getting her feedback was really awesome!
I learned that creating change requires patience. It can be especially difficult when tackling a problem like sexual harassment because it is so nuanced, subjective, and uncomfortable to talk about. I also learned the importance of listening. With this tool, even among our own group, we had differences in opinion. Sometimes we disagreed on what comment or behavior should fit where in our guide or how the documentary should look like.
If I could do this differently, I would have pivoted much earlier. We were crunched for time when we realized how difficult the process would be to alter the current reporting form, especially since school board elections were happening. Our short time period prevented us from distributing Crush or Creep at other AISD schools this semester. However, I think that is doable next semester as we plan to continue this project as Girl Alliance.
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