Part 1: Employer/employee harassment in schools
As of this writing, Matt Lauer of the Today show and Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame have been accused of sexual harassment and been removed from the media. This seems like a good response.
I’ve noticed that (as of this writing), there haven’t been women accused of the same sort of employer/employee sexual harassment. In the most recent statistics I’ve been able to find (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp), more than 3/4 of all educators are women, but I’ve never heard of women harassing men in the schools.
When considering this, I came up with a few theories about why men harass women. Let’s take a look:
Theory 1: The biology of men is more likely to make them harass then the biology of women.
There’s no doubt that men and women are biologically different from one another. However, is this difference in biology responsible for this different behavior?
My guess, based on the fact that neither male staff nor female school staff seem to be significantly harassing one another (at least, I haven’t found any statistics on the matter) would suggest that this isn’t the case. There are incidents of harassment on both sides, but by the lack of good data I could find, it would seem that these numbers aren’t particularly high on either side. Men and women are biologically-different, but it doesn’t appear that this has anything to do with biology.
Theory 2: Men have always harassed women – the current harassment just reflects the way that society has always been.
I’m going to reject this theory straightaway. I’m not going to deny that men have always harassed women, because it’s pretty clear that this is the case. However, I’m looking more for the reason why men would harass women in the first place, and this theory seems to presuppose that there was a time when this didn’t happen. Why did it start?
Theory 3: Men abuse their power. Women would do the same thing if given a chance.
I found it hard to find any very good data about whether men in positions of power are involved in sexual harassment more than women in similar positions. If you Google this, you’ll see what I mean – most of the results asking about the rates of women harassing men lead to articles which have a “men are victims, too” message without supporting data. This isn’t going to work.
Let’s take a look at the rates of sexual abuse of students by teachers. Looking at the stats (https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf) we can see that, while male teachers are responsible for a bit more of the abuse than female teachers – 57% vs 43%, there’s the confounding factor that there are far fewer male teachers than female teachers. This suggests that male teachers are far more likely to harass female students than female students are. My conclusion from this: Given a power imbalance, males are more likely to commit sexual harassment than females are.
So, where does this leave us?
It looks like males harass women more than men, and that it probably has a lot to do with an imbalance of power between the abuser and abused. Which is pretty much what people in the media have been saying.
How to handle this:
Given that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of colleague sexual harassment in the schools, you’d think that nothing needs to be done at all. However, given that sexual harassment of anybody is so prevalent, we need to take reasonable steps to ensure that the harassment that does happen is dealt with quickly. Some ideas:
- Train people about sexual harassment. Men need to realize what sexual harassment actually is. Some men think that it’s OK to pat women on the butt, while other men think they’ll go to jail for telling a female coworker that the new haircut looks good. Some women think that a pat on the butt isn’t that big a deal, while others feel threatened by less serious acts. Let’s get everybody on the same page so we can agree about what we’re fighting against.
- Encourage people to report harassment. If suspected harassment happens, it should be reported. It should be easy to report harassment and it should be emphasized that it won’t result in negative consequences.
- Let everybody know that investigations are intended to find the truth. I get the feeling from talking to women who have been harassed that many of them didn’t report it because they felt as if it were kind of a borderline issue and they didn’t want to ruin the man’s life if it turned out to be a misunderstanding. If we explicitly make clear that these investigations are meant to simply find out what happened and not to destroy the accused, this might go a long way in removing this problem.
- Let the punishment fit the crime. If a man commits a violent sexual assault, prison is clearly the way to go. However, if a man commits a lesser act of harassment (perhaps an older teacher makes casual sexually-derogatory statements about women in general), perhaps it’s more appropriate to educate them about why this isn’t right, or to move them to another workplace and keep a close eye on them. Though I don’t have any stats to back it up, I suspect that some of the less extreme acts of sexual harassment are due to stupidity or insensitivity on the part of the harasser, rather than through a desire to victimize somebody.
- Don’t let this be the flavor of the month: In education, we tend to change what we do every 10 years, whether it needs changing or not (who remembers CBLs?) Sexual harassment is not like this. Training seminars today can’t be stopped when somebody decides there’s no problem. There is a problem, and we need to continue addressing it.
Now that I’ve solved this problem, stand by for Part 2, which will discuss how to deal with harassment between teachers and students.