Preventing sexual harassment in school

MASON CITY, Iowa-  A recent study by the University of Illinois showed nearly 50 percent of middle school students surveyed were victims of some kind of verbal sexual harassment such as inappropriate jokes or gestures.

John Adams Middle School counselor Sharon Reinardy says if students hear or see something that looks wrong, it’s important to let a teacher know. She said if students feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to step in straighten out the situation.

“Sometimes it’s just changing the subject,” said Reinardy. “So maybe you don’t confront the actual piece if you are not comfortable doing so but you diffuse that situation by making a joke or changing the subject.”

The study showed about 16 percent of students were targets of homophobic name-calling or jokes.

Reinardy said some students may take part in sexual harassment behavior, such as inappropriate jokes, to fit in or they are looking for a reaction from their peers. She said in the school’s bullying and harassment unit, she teaches students that they’re accountable for their actions.

Emma Garrett, 8th grader at John Adams Middle School, said students to be mindful of classmates feelings.

“Just being aware of what others are going through,” said Garrett. “Just trying to be there for them, so those things [sexual harassment] can be prevented.”

The study showed 21 percent of students were touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.

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