Sexual Harassment and assault

A parent’s guide to ending sexual harassment and assault

Sexual harassment is any unwanted and unwelcome sexual behaviour which interferes with a student’s right to learn, study, achieve, or participate in school activities in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere. Under law and policies, sexual harassment is illegal and is prohibited in school settings. 

Sexual harassment may involve a boy harassing a girl, a girl harassing a boy, a boy harassing another boy, or a girl harassing another girl (child on child abuse). The law alone does not discourage sexual misbehaviour and parents/carers have an important role to play in helping to prevent children from becoming perpetrators now and as adults. The information below has been taken from snippets of an article written in The Conversation Newsletter (December 2017) highlighting a guide for parents in tackling the issue of sexual harassment.

1. Teach children about consent

Parents should explain that clear communication minimises the risks of becoming a perpetrator of sexual harassment or abuse. Parents can teach that consent is a necessary prerequisite to any sexual behaviour.  The video below teaches the idea of consent through the cup of tea analogy.

Children must learn how to respectfully seek consent, how to grant consent when they want to give it and how to recognise what is not consent. Silence is not the same as an enthusiastic “Yes!” and should not be deemed as consent.

2. Teach children about individual autonomy and gender equality

Consent is a method to help ensure that people respect individual autonomy and gender equality. These are the values behind the laws and social norms that proscribe sexual harassment and assault. Parents should teach the importance of individual autonomy and gender equality because children are then more likely to seek consent, obey the law, and act appropriately in different situations.

Individual autonomy, is the idea that everyone gets to say who can touch them and whether other sexual behaviour is welcome. If a person does not obtain permission first, he or she risks violating the other person’s individual autonomy.

Even if consent is obtained, the consent isn’t sufficient if the other person lacked the capacity to consent, because he or she was drunk, on drugs, a minor or mentally deficient. Coercion also invalidates consent, and coercion can exist when there is any sort of negative repercussion from a refusal. An example of this is physical violence.

Gender equality is the idea that people of all genders have the same rights, including the same right to individual autonomy. All people have the right to initiate sex, to say yes when invitations appeal to them and to say no when they are uninterested. Emphasising gender equality is essential. 

Although the language may differ, these principles can be discussed whether the child is 8, 12 or 16 years old. A parent can also use these principles to promote the child’s sympathy for victims of sexual misconduct – encouraging moral reasoning and appropriate behaviour.

3. Teach children to be upstanders

Parents who teach their children how to be upstanders may reduce sexual misconduct by others. An upstander is someone that speaks or acts in support of another individual. Peer norms influence sexual misconduct in schools. It has been proven that young people offend less when their friends send a signal that sexual aggression or sexual misbehaviour is unacceptable and gender equality is important.

By teaching young people to be upstanders, supporting others to stand up to this behaviour and highlighting it will not be tolerated we can help create a world in which everyone respects gender equality and sexual harassment is no longer normalised.