DEAR ABBY: "Three Girls From Zanesville, Ohio" wrote that they were sexually harassed at their high school by a boy who touches, grabs and pinches them. They complained to the assistant principal, and the boy was given one day of detention -- after which the harassment escalated.
Those girls should know that telling the assistant principal one time is not enough. Although your advice to tell their parents is important, much more needs to be done.
Victims must document and report any future incidents immediately to an adult at the school. In my school, if such a report occurs, the perpetrator is immediately suspended. Expulsion and legal action are also used if the sexual harassment does not stop.
In addition, because the perpetrators are often skilled at not exhibiting this behavior in clear view of adults, I teach victims how to respond so that the perpetrator is exposed. Victims must clearly and loudly tell the offender to "Leave me alone! Don't touch me! Don't say that to me!" This alerts adults and students in the school that there's a problem. Notes, e-mails or written messages must be saved and turned over to school officials. I also review the incident with the staff, to alert them to be more observant of possible future problems.
It is only through CONTINUED communication between the victim and school officials that effective action can be taken and the harassment stopped. -- GORDON W. HOOD, PRINCIPAL, NICHOLS MIDDLE SCHOOL, EVANSTON, ILL.
DEAR GORDON: Thank you for writing. Let it be lost on no one that although the girls who wrote to me were in high school, harassment also happens in middle school -- and even grammar school.
DEAR ABBY: The boy who sexually harassed the "Three Girls From Zanesville" is committing a crime. Boys who do this have no sense of appropriate boundaries with the opposite sex. If they'll do it in public, there's no telling what they will do in a private setting.
What is most surprising to me about these cases is the fact that the girls seem to tolerate it for extended periods of time. My experience leads me to believe that the culture of high school and/or junior high leads these girls to believe that they brought the harassment on themselves.
Please let all students know that inappropriate touching is not OK. They are entitled to go to school and feel safe. Policing by peers is the strongest deterrent to this type of behavior. Classmates as well as victims need to speak out against this behavior. -- DEPUTY PROSECUTOR IN WASHINGTON
DEAR D.P.: The girls "tolerate" it because they haven't learned how to effectively stop it. But you're right, silence does indicate that it's acceptable. Peer pressure can be a powerful weapon for good. When people speak out and let those around them know they won't tolerate something and stand together, it can change a culture.