Hashtag links sexual harassment victims

Andreea Sabau, News Editor

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Sophomore Joie Rabishaw (front) is a victim of sexual harassment. The people in the background represent the silent voices of sexual harassment victims. Rabishaw posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “I am more than an object. #metoo” on Oct. 22, 2017 conveying her support for other victims of sexual harassment.

With the mere click of a button, sophomore Joie Rabishaw was able to find comfort after being sexually harassed by sharing an Instagram photo with a powerful caption: “I am more than an object. #metoo.”

The “#MeToo” movement quickly spread throughout Twitter and other social media platforms following sexual misconduct allegations against several prominent men, notably Film Director Harvey Weinstein. Victims have posted the hashtag to reveal that they have experienced sexual harassment.

As of Nov. 30, 2017, over 600,000 posts have been tagged with “#MeToo” on Instagram. Twitter representatives did not respond to a request for comment on how many times the hashtag has been used on their platform.

According to the Glenbrook High School District #225 board policy on harassment, sexual harassment is defined as “any unwelcome and personally offensive conduct” of a sexual nature that creates a hostile work or school environment. It includes unwelcome touching, inappropriate jokes and spreading rumors about someone’s alleged sexual activities.

Carlos Cuevas, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said in a phone interview that sexual harassment experienced by teenagers is often mistaken as bullying, but he believes it is important to distinguish between the two because classifying it as bullying can minimize the severity of the problem.

Health teacher Michael English said sophomores in health classes at Glenbrook North are taught about what sexual harassment is, what the rules of consent are and how to form healthy relationships. Also, the sophomore girls P.E. curriculum includes a self-defense unit, so girls can learn how to defend themselves against an attacker.

Brad Swanson, assistant superintendent for human resources for Glenbrook High School District #225, said in a phone interview that the district requires sexual harassment training for teachers every two years through Global Compliance Network, an online program.  The training addresses what to do if staff members have experienced or witnessed students or teachers being sexually harassed and how to avoid inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

Swanson said he believes the “national conversation” about sexual harassment is beneficial because it encouraged the district administration to review the current training policies. Although a decision has not been made yet, the administration has considered the possible benefits of having sexual harassment training in person as opposed to online.

According to senior Mary Vogler, she believes reforming the way society handles reports of sexual harassment will help minimize the number of victims of sexual violence.

“The approach is always to train women on how to deal with sexual harassment rather than teaching men how to not be harassers.

“I think that’s a really big problem because that’s not even trying to fix the issue,” said Vogler. “That’s just trying to train women to deal with it.” According to English, male health students at GBN are taught how not to harass females. He encourages males to think about how sexual harassment would negatively impact the women in their lives.

Fueled by extensive  discussions regarding sexual harassment, GBN’s  Feminism Club held a meeting on Nov. 27, 2017. Club members were informed about the resources that are available to victims of sexual harassment and shared their own stories of sexual harassment.

School counselor Craig Niemiec said he has helped a number of students who have experienced sexual harassment. He starts by listening to their story,  and he often connects them to social work services inside or outside GBN. Parents are informed about incidents on a “case by case” basis, and depending on the situation, the police may be notified.

According to Kris Frandson, associate principal for administrative services, she and Ed Solis, associate principal for curriculum and instruction, deal with harassment issues at GBN. She said there is not a formal process for students to report sexual harassment, but when guidance counselors or the Dean’s office are informed of an incident, the news often reaches her and Solis. A “deep and detailed” investigation by interviewing any parties involved would then be conducted.

Frandson said any student or teacher can also bring harassment complaints directly to her and Solis.

According to Cuevas, listening to victims and providing emotional support are essential steps to take when treating victims of sexual harassment.

“We really need to get better at not victim-blaming.

“‘Well, they dressed this way’ or ‘They were out late,’” said Cuevas. “Things like that sort of pin the blame on the victim, when, in reality, the blame is on the perpetrator.”

Although Rabishaw did not receive any negative comments online on her “#MeToo” post, she said one of her female friends told her that she was lying about the harassment she experienced, which made her feel devalued because she did not think “anyone would want to lie about it.”

Cuevas said telling victims of sexual assault that they are lying about their experience can be detrimental.

“It’s hard enough to come forward and disclose,” said Cuevas. “It makes it even harder when the response you get is, ‘Well, I don’t believe you.’ … You don’t want somebody who finally has the strength to come forward and disclose what’s happened to them to basically have the system shut them down and not believe them.”

Rabishaw said the most important advice she has for victims of sexual harassment is to confide in someone else. She believes understanding the rules of consent is essential to preventing harassment in the future.

“Even if [the perpetrator  thinks] you’re enjoying … what they’re doing, you can always say no,” said Rabishaw. “You can always change your mind at any time.”

According to Cuevas, the “#MeToo” campaign has encouraged many victims to disclose their experiences, which is an important step to recovery. The movement makes victims of sexual harassment feel more comfortable sharing their story.

“Sadly, what made [the  “MeToo” campaign] explode in popularity is that sexual abuse and sexual harassment happen a lot more than we know because it’s so underreported.

“With the ‘#MeToo’ campaign, [victims] sort of saw … some way of building a camaraderie around, ‘Hey, there are other people who have experienced this,’” said Cuevas. “‘I can share my story too.’”

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Hashtag links sexual harassment victims