Tackling School Sexual Harassment

with Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center

Nationwide statistics show that half of all girls in grades 7 to 12 experience sexual harassment.

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, joins host Sheila Hyland to address findings that connect sexual harassment in schools to American workplaces.

Posted on:

Mar 04, 2019

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: A report from the National Women´s Law Center found that one in five girls between the ages of 14 and 18 experience sexual violence. Despite federal laws in place to protect them, many students still experience harassment and assault, which can leave a lasting impact. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Emerging research shows a connection between sexual harassment in school and the pervasiveness of harassment in the workplace. Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women´s Law Center is here with some important details about that. Fatima, thank you for joining us.

Goss Graves: Oh, I´m so happy to be here.

Hyland: So, are the incidents of sexual harassment and assault on the rise, or is there just more awareness about it?

Goss Graves: Yeah, sexual harassment and assault isn´t a new problem. It is a longstanding problem. But what is new is really an acute awareness and attention to the issue, especially among the institutions that should be addressing it -- and that includes schools.

Hyland: And you say that schools are actually the training ground for sexual harassment in the workplace. What´s the correlation there?

Goss Graves: So, when students are in schools, unfortunately, too many of them are learning the absolute wrong lesson about harassment and violence. For survivors, they´re learning that they´re not likely to be believed and that reporting is not necessarily a good idea, ´cause good things don´t happen when you report. And for those who are engaging in abuse, they are learning that they can get away with it.

Hyland: So, obviously, sending the wrong message. You actually have a story about a Jane Doe who experienced exactly what you´re talking about. She was sexually harassed, she went to the school, and what happened?

Goss Graves: It´s really unfortunate. One of our clients, who we call Jane Doe -- we aren´t revealing her name -- you know, she reported the sexual assault that she experienced in school. And rather than giving a trauma-informed response, meeting her with care, what happened to her was that the school immediately began to investigate and look into whether or not she had violated their sexual contact codes. So, for them, the whole question is, is this girl lying, and if so, she´ll be in trouble for it.

Hyland: And I understand that minority girls are also much more likely to experience a subtle form of harassment when they come forward.

Goss Graves: That´s right. You know, for girls of color, when they report, there´s even more risk, and they are less likely to be believed. And many of them are in schools that have lots of rigid rules, rules about what you wear -- these dress codes -- rules about sexual contact -- these sex codes. And that´s what happened with our Jane Doe, who´s a Latino girl living in the South. You know, she comes forward, she´s in an environment with a lot of rigid rules already, and they didn´t believe her. And, instead, she was the one who was in trouble.

Hyland: So, you now, through the National Women´s Law Center, have an initiative called Let Her Learn. It´s a toolkit. Tell us about the toolkit -- And you´re taking it into, what, schools, you´re introducing it to parents and students?

Goss Graves: That´s right. So, when we launched Let Her Learn, what we knew is that people needed tools and resources, and our initial target was really parents and students. It was intended to spark a conversation, allow them to gather with community, and actually take it to their schools, to their school boards, and start engaging with them. And it´s making a difference. We have Let Her Learn circles that have started in different parts of the country. They´re pushing their schools to be better. They´re not waiting for the Department of Education to get its act together and do the things that it´s supposed to do, they´re taking it directly to schools and school boards for the change that they´re seeking.

Hyland: Can you explain a little more about what´s in the toolkit? -

Goss Graves: Sure. So, some of the things are just basic facts about the rates and nature of sexual assault and what students are experiencing. Some of it is sort of the rules that people should know. There are all sorts of rights that most people don´t know that they have in schools. And on the school end, there are all sorts of obligations that they have that they sometimes just are not following.

Hyland: And where can people get more information about the toolkit?

Goss Graves: Well, they can go right to our website, which is nwlc.org. And they can find information about the Let Her Learn campaign, they can find information about Title IX, and, hopefully, they will join with us in this work. That´s what we´re looking for. -

Hyland: Let´s hope so. Fatima, thank you so much for being our guest today.

Goss Graves: Thank you.

Hyland: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫

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