How many of your parents have sat you down to talk about consent?
In an interview with American broadcast journalist and female empowerment advocate Gretchen Carlson defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
Actions like requests for sexual favors, inappropriate gestures, lewd jokes, and sexual remarks about one’s body are just the tip of the iceberg. Many other factors may offend people, which vary from person to person.
“Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex,” wrote Carlson.
Many may not be aware that even the smallest action such as brushing off one’s hand on another’s body or asking boundary-breaking questions is also considered sexual harassment.
The significance of the issue of sexual harassment in schools has been widely trivialized because these teenagers are “just kids.” In reality, it is for that same reason that we should raise awareness about the issue at a young age for these teenagers instead.
Specifically, in Asia, the term “sex” has been widely shied upon. The topic of sex is never to be spoken about unless you're a married couple or likewise. Sex is considered a sin, despite it being an essence of human nature. Generations after generations have spoken to their kids about sex and made them imagine the worst if they participated in such a “sinful” act.
When asked what leads to a student’s potential lack of knowledge on the issue, she replied, “Knowledge and transparency and an open environment to discuss this issue.”
The word “sex” itself has been stigmatized by many cultures. From objectification to looking down on sex workers, society has found its way to degrade the subject.
Teenagers who are emerging into adulthood have a never-ending curiosity. Truth be told, no matter how much parents try to protect their children from knowing about it, the topic of sex always comes about in their social life.
Those teenagers who have not been educated on the topic, immediately find a way to make sense of it themselves. This often leads to unethical behavior on their part towards their peers. Due to the lack of education, they are often unaware of the concept of consent, which leads to bigger issues.
The lack of education at home and school comes after the adults' reason for the topic of sex to be “inappropriate.” In most instances, it is not in fact “inappropriate,” but rather, it is the adults that feel uncomfortable talking to their children about it. Either that or they assume that educating them on the matter will influence them in all the wrong ways.
In households that avert from addressing the issue, children are usually subject to sexualization by their parents. Children are fueled by cultural stigmas. These instances include asking the child to wear modest clothing in the presence of male family members or telling them to act a certain way because it makes the opposite gender uncomfortable.
“We thought we had solved this issue in my generation, but we had not. It's my hope we can inoculate young people with the right information and knowledge to once and for all eradicate it.”
This is exactly why the issue of sexual harassment is never resolved; because we teach kids to not get harassed rather than teaching them to not harass them. Moreover, when parents sexualize their kids, they immediately assume that it is okay to go around sexualizing other kids, which in turn creates a wave of sexual harassment.
Because no one talked to them about it, teenagers may not be aware of consent and its importance. Additionally, this may add up to the fact that they would not know the difference between sexual harassment and “having fun.”
Moreover, since they grew up being told practically nothing about sex when a friend of theirs gets sexually harassed, the blame game is initiated. This is mostly because society itself has played the blame game whenever someone gets raped or sexually harassed. Rather than addressing the rapist, the focus falls on the victim, slandering them by saying that the victim “asked for it.”
In the case of teenagers, the most common blame includes, “you shouldn’t have trusted him” and “you should have seen this coming.” Now how would the victim have seen it coming if no one told them about what red flags to watch out for? Society should be called out for not emphasizing and normalizing the boundaries that come with sex, and, as well, not addressing it to teenagers.
The lack of awareness on the issue of sexual harassment or sex itself has long-lasting effects on teenagers. If not intervened, the harassers will continue to harass those they meet later on, even in their adulthood.
Eventually, there could be a point where they go from harassing people to even raping them. On the other hand, the victims may suffer from mental health issues ranging from PTSD (post-traumatic disorder) to depression. They will blame themselves for what the harassers did because society has convinced them that it is the victim's fault.
How exactly can sexual harassment be prevented amongst teenagers? Well, it starts at home. Parents should sit down with their kids and talk to them about the importance of consent and everything their child needs to know about sex. Instead of making it a taboo topic at home, talking about it allows an environment where teenagers can ask questions about the said topic to their parents, who will then be able to tell what is right and wrong.
Additionally, parents should understand and prevent themselves from falling into the stigmas and stereotypes around sex. This fosters and bursts the bubble of stereotypes encompassing the topic of sex that society has created.
Carlson stated that “Educating young men about the dangers of these silencing mechanisms and how important it is to lift women is the key to a solution.”
Moreover, schools should make sex education compulsory. Other than talking about how sex works, teachers can also emphasize the importance of consent and what constitutes sexual harassment. Through this, teachers will be able to create an environment of understanding about how consent is vital in a teenager’s relationships. This will eventually prevent future cases of sexual harassment among teenagers, in part due to their newfound understanding of the topic.
Sexual harassment is an issue of human rights and violations. Our culture makes us who we are, but by bringing in the heavy influence of politics, culture, and centuries-old stigmas, this issue will never stand a chance at being resolved.