Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual behavior towards another individual. These behaviors can include catcalls, unwelcome touches, and inappropriate jokes. Importantly, there is a fine line between playfulness and sexual harassment. With over 25% of Liberty students reporting that they have been sexually harassed, it’s important to know what sexual harassment is and what you can do in the event of harassment.

Valerie Adams and Annabelle Smith

What is sexual harassment?

You’re walking down the street on a normal Tuesday afternoon. It’s nice out, so you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt, trying to beat the heat. Out of nowhere, you hear a whistle, followed by the words, “Lookin’ good, honey, why don’t you give me a smile?” You didn’t do anything wrong, but some man driving by has probably made you feel extremely uncomfortable with only a few words.

Sexual harassment like this impacts 60 percent of adult women according to a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in November of 2017. According to a survey of 219 students, 37 percent of females have been sexually harassed.

“We take sexual harassment very seriously here at Liberty,” Principal Sean Martin said. “We make sure that we look at the situation from all angles and hear all sides of the story, ensuring that everything is as fair as possible.”

Despite the precautions taken to prevent sexual harassment at Liberty, such as the handbook talk given at the beginning of the year and reprimands from teachers, sexual harassment still happens.

For example, sophomore Daniella Paulino was being followed down the hall at school by a boy and then pinned against the wall as he tried to touch her. She punched him in the face to get away.

“The fact that [I was sexually harassed] at school continues to make me feel unsafe,” Paulino said. “It’s like a nightmare that won’t go away. It hurts that it won’t go away and that it actually happened to me.”

Junior Lili Galluzzo has not been sexually harassed at school, but she does see it occurring.

“I hear boys say things to their friends, or they make jokes with girls about their bodies,” Galluzzo said. “And it just makes me feel sick because nobody does anything.”

According to statistician Lawrence Greenfield, 99 percent of sexual harassments come from males. However, history teacher Aubrey Mathwig finds this statistic misleading because it does not mean that 99 percent of the male population has sexually harassed someone.

“It’s not a blanket statement,” Mathwig said. “You can’t just say ‘Every guy will sexually harass a girl,’ because that’s not true. I think that there is somewhat of a culture though, and that it is becoming more common.”

What to do if you are sexually harassed

In reality, if somebody is sexually harassed, they should stand up to the perpetrator and tell him or her to stop. However, this may not be as easy as it seems.

“As much as I would like to say, ‘Don’t be afraid to speak up,’ and that you’ll be okay, you will feel uncomfortable and probably a little mean, and it will suck. It will suck a lot,” Mathwig said.

According to a survey conducted by the American Association for University Women, over half of females that are sexually harassed in school do not report these incidents. People’s rationale for not reporting is that there might be negative repercussions against them. According to Martin, the main way for people to feel as if they can report harassment is to make them feel comfortable.

“In my opinion, there are two parts of these situations,” Martin said. “The first is that the person who is harassing another needs to realize that those actions are not acceptable at all. The other side is making sure that the victim feels heard and feels safe.”

In order to allow people to feel safe, there are policies such as suspension or expulsion that are in place as consequences of sexual harassment at Liberty.

In Galluzzo’s opinion, the topic is still very much a taboo despite the policies that are in place.

“Even though topics like this are really hard to talk about, they shouldn’t be so taboo because then nothing’s going to get done about it. Everyone is too scared to talk about it and it doesn’t get brought up,” Galluzzo said.

Mathwig agrees with Galluzzo’s opinion on the need to have more discussions about sexual harassment.

“We’re very unlikely to change anyone’s behavior,” Mathwig said, “but everything has to start with a conversation.”