Talking with your Child about Sexual Harassment and Assault

  • Parental involvement is critical to long-term behavior modification with sexual or any kind of harassment

    Help Your Child Recognize the Types of Harassment and Assault

    Depending on your child’s age, talk with them about the different types of sexual harassment and assault so that they understand what these actions are and that they are not acceptable by anyone inside or outside of the school environment. Ask them questions like:

    “Is it ever okay for someone to touch you without your permission?”

    “What would you say to someone if they said something sexually inappropriate to you?  What would you do?”

    “Is it ever okay for someone in power—a teacher or another student—to ask you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable?  How would you respond?”

    Teach the proper names for body parts

    You can start doing this as early as you teach your child words. Conversations about bodily autonomy (I am the boss of my body), and consent can begin at age 4 or 5 years old, and often even earlier. For example, we can teach our children that they are the boss of their body and nobody has the right to touch it without their permission. This can be encouraged by not forcing children to hug and kiss people if they do not feel comfortable doing so. Instead, we can offer our children the choice to hug, shake hands, or fist bump.

    Teach your Child to Be an Upstander

    Teach your child to act as allies and support other students when they see something or experience it themselves. Recent news stories about sexual harassment suggest that if people who knew about these incidents had not acted as bystanders but instead used ally behavior — from supporting the target to saying something in the moment to telling a trusted adult — the outcomes may have been different. 

    These are some tips from the on how students can be upstanders when they encounter the harassment of others:

    1. Support targets, whether you know them or not

    Show compassion and encouragement to those who are the targets of bullying behavior by asking if they’re okay, going with them to get help and letting them know you are there for them. Ask what else you can do and make sure they know they’re not alone.

    2. Don’t participate

    This is a really easy way to be an ally because it doesn’t require you to actually do anything, just to not do certain things — like laugh, stare or cheer for the bad behavior. By refusing to join in when harassment occurs, you are sending a message that the behavior is not funny and you are not okay with treating people that way. The next step is to speak up and try to put a stop to the hurtful behavior.

    3. Tell aggressors to stop

    If it feels safe, stand tall and tell the person behaving badly to cut it out. You can let them know you don’t approve on the spot or later during a private moment. Whenever you do it, letting aggressors know how hurtful it is to be bullied may cause them to think twice before picking on someone again.

    4. Inform a trusted adult

    Sometimes you may need extra help to stop the harassment. It’s important to tell an adult who you trust so that this person can be an ally to you as well as the target. Getting someone out of trouble is never “tattling” or “snitching.”  So don’t think twice—reach out to a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, coach or someone else who will get involved.

    5. Be an ally online

    Harassment happens online, too, and through the use of cell phones. Looking at sexually-related pictures of other students and forwarding sexually suggestive messages or pictures is just like harassing someone in person. It is just as hurtful, even if you can’t see the other person’s face. All the rules above are just as important to follow when texting or emailing. So online and offline—do your part to be an ally to others.

    Prepare Your Child How to Respond Potential Threats of Sexual Harassment or Assault

    As outlined earlier, 85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys in grades 8–11 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. In fact, 65 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys have actually been touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way in school. Help ensure that your child understands the following:

    Don’t blame yourself. The person who is harassing you is the one doing something wrong and you haven’t done anything to cause the harassment, even if you flirted with this person or liked him/her.

    Say “No” Clearly. Tell the person who is harassing you that his/her behavior offends you. They may not realize how hurtful their behavior is and may need a clear message from you to stop. If the harassment does not end, promptly write a letter asking the harasser to stop. Keep a copy of the letter.

    Write down what happened. When someone harasses you or makes you feel uncomfortable, write it down in a notebook that is just for this purpose. Write down what happened, the date it happened, where it happened, and who else may have seen or heard the harassment. Also write down what you did in response, and how the harassment made you feel. Do not write other information in this notebook, such as appointments or homework assignments. Save any notes, e-mails, text messages, or pictures the harasser sent or posted about you. It is a good idea to keep these records somewhere besides school, such as in your home or another safe place. If the harassment takes place online, such as on Facebook or other website, take steps to save and store the harassing content in case it gets removed or deleted later. Parents of younger children will need to keep their own written accounts.

    Report the Harassment. It is very important that you tell your parents or another adult, like a teacher or guidance counselor, about the harassment. If you want the school to do something about the harassment, you MUST tell a school official, such as the principal, that you are being sexually harassed. If you do not feel comfortable telling the school official yourself, get the help of your parents, a teacher, guidance counselor or another adult to go with you. If you and/or your parents tell a school official verbally, also do it in writing and keep a copy for yourself. If the first school official (like the principal) doesn’t respond, go to the school board or Superintendent to complain. The law says the school has to stop sexual harassment of a student whether the harasser is a teacher or another student(s), but the school is only required to stop the harassment if someone in authority at the school knows what is happening to you. So it is VERY IMPORTANT to report the harassment to a school official.

    Recognize the Signs of Sexual Assault or Harassment

    Trauma from experiencing sexual misconduct can present in a variety of ways and differs among individuals. Some indications include:

    • Chronic pain that is not clearly related to a physical injury
    • Migraines and other frequent headaches
    • Anxiety/nervousness
    • Shame or guilt
    • Distrust of others
    • Symptoms of PTSD: emotional detachment, sleep disturbances
    • Depression
    • Generalized anxiety
    • Attempted suicide
    • Low self-esteem/self-blame
    • Engaging in high-risk sexual behavior
    • Using harmful substances
    • Unhealthy diet-related behaviors 

    Know How To Report That Your Child is Sexually Harassed or Assaulted

    When a parent learns their child has been sexually assaulted, harassed or otherwise faced sexual violence, a tidal wave of emotion may follow. The support, understanding and love of a parent can help a child cope with what they have endured and find hope that they will come out on the other side happy and healthy. For parents who are feeling at a loss for what to do, here are some ideas to get you started.

    Tip 1: Believe them and show them your unconditional support. It is imperative that when your child discloses to you, you continue to repeat the following messages through both your words and your actions:

    I love you.
    What happened is not your fault.
    I will do everything I can to keep you safe.

    It is also important that you seek professional support to guide you in navigating your own big emotions around the reality of your child being assaulted while also supporting your child navigate their trauma.

    RAINN has excellent guiding tips for parents of children who have been sexually assaulted.

    Tip 2: Ensure there is no judgment or blame. There are three things your child will need to hear: I love you, this was not your fault, and I will take care of you. You can be the most steadfast supporter your child has—they will rely on you to know how to feel about themselves and the situation.

    Tip 3: Don’t be surprised by your emotions. Something bad happening to your child can trigger waves of emotions that are so strong they threaten to knock you off your feet. Let the emotions come; fighting them will only make them worse. But don’t let your child see the extent of them, as that might make them feel guilty or worried about you.

    Tip 4: Help your child report the assault. If your child is a minor, they will look to you to report the crime. Don’t hesitate to do so. Contact your local police and the Santa Clara Unified School District if your child was assaulted or harassed by an employee or fellow student.

    Santa Clara Unified School District strongly encourages any student who feels that he/she is being or has been sexually harassed on school grounds or at a school-sponsored or school-related activity by another student or an adult or who has experienced off-campus sexual harassment that has a continuing effect on campus to immediately contact his/her teacher, the principal, or any other available school employee. Any employee who receives a report or observes an incident of sexual harassment shall notify the principal or a district compliance officer. Once notified, the principal or compliance officer shall take the steps to investigate and address the allegation, as specified in the accompanying administrative regulation.

    The District's policies and administrative regulations on sexual harassment are outlined as follows:

    Personnel: Board Policy  4119.11   Administrative Regulation 4119.11

    Students: Board Policy  5145.7    Administrative Regulation 5145.7

    Reports of sexual harassment or assault are filed with the Title IX and Nondiscrimination Coordinator, Andrew Lucia, Assistant Superintendent, School Support and District Development at (408) 423-2008 or alucia@scusd.net.

    Consult Other Support Resources:

    The district will continue to develop resources and training to help empower parents, students and staff to recognize, respond to and report sexual harassment and assault.  

    Please check back on this page for additional resources and updates.