Sexual Harassment In Schools
Just as it is illegal in the workplace, harassment based upon sex or gender is illegal in schools. Attributing sexual behaviors to kids who aren’t ready for that behavior and who aren’t engaging in that behavior – even talking about a student’s private sexual activities – can be a form of sexual harassment that creates a hostile, intimidating or abusive educational environment. Children are especially vulnerable to this type of abuse and are far less equipped than adults to be able to handle the social consequences in the very condensed and highly charged atmosphere of a school.
Sexual harassment, even if it doesn’t involve touching or direct sexual interest, but rather only sexually attributed abuse and name calling, can devastate a child for years to come or for the rest of his or her life. It can expose a child to depression, self-abuse and suicide. Schools can’t just “brush it off” or say “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls.” Schools can’t say that your child will “get over it” and that “kids are tough.” Schools can’t throw up their hands and say that they don’t know what to do.
Under the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Law and under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, schools have an affirmative and absolute obligation not only to prevent such harassment from occurring by undertaking preventative educational measures, but also immediately investigating and responding to sexual harassment allegations that are raised by a student or by a parent/guardian. Teachers, counselors and school professionals all share responsibility to respond to and investigate the sexual harassment, and where appropriate, to deter and punish the harassers severely.
Schools must also follow up to make sure that there’s no blowback or retaliation against the student by way of further harassment, either by the original harassers or by their allies in school, because the child or his or her parent or guardian stood up for the student’s sexual harassment rights.
It’s also important to understand that boys can be sexually harassed too, and are being harassed in greater numbers than ever before. Boys, who can sometimes be emotionally less mature than girls of the same age, are often the victims of sexual harassment not by other boys, but by girls who humiliate and torment boys because they are unprepared for sexual conversation or sexual activity. They may resort to name calling and cyberbullying by using technology to alter photographs or attribute certain sexual characteristics, fairly or unfairly, truthfully or otherwise, to these boys. Boys, who generally aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings as readily as girls, can sometime internalize these feelings, and that can be devastating both in the short and long term.
The employment, civil and school harassment rights attorneys at Costello & Mains, LLC, are at the very spearhead of protecting students from this type of harassment in New Jersey schools, and we know how to, and have many times, utilized state law to hold school boards and school professional accountable for their failure to prevent, investigate and halt this type of harassment.