Whether in school, on a date, or on the job, teens and young adults may fall victim to sexual harassment. The national #MeToo movement has brought the issues of sexual harassment and abuse to light, and it’s important for parents to know the signs of sexual harassment as well as what to do if they feel their child has been sexually harassed.
Sexual harassment and assault can be verbal, visual, or physical and come in many forms. These include name calling or insults, unwanted touching, pressure to date or have sex, unwanted sexual attention and using sexually explicit terms when talking or describing someone can all be considered sexual harassment.
Peers and teachers or other authoritative figures may be perpetrators. Comments are usually made in person, but harassment can happen online too. According to Dr. Judy Jacobs with Christian Family Counseling in Fredericksburg, this kind of behavior “is used to control, manipulate, or to intimidate another person. Sexual abuse can be verbal, such as sexual threats, sexual comments about one’s body, lewd remarks, harassment and any suggestive comments. The comments can often be confusing, leaving the person feeling uncertain about the inappropriateness of the comment. Sexual abuse can also be visual where a child is exposed to pornographic material against consent.”
Children and teens who’ve been victims of sexual harassment or abuse may show signs of withdrawal, worry, or fear.
If your child is a victim of sexual harassment, they should:
• Speak to their harasser about how the behavior is making them uncomfortable.
• Keep a record of what the person said or did as well as when and where the incident occurred.
• Talk to an adult to help her figure out if what happened is considered sexual harassment.
• Report the behavior to a teacher or other school staff member (or a boss).
As a parent, you should:
• Remove your child from the environment if they feel unsafe.
• Consider legal action, if necessary.
“Look for red flags, and if you suspect that something is off, talk with your child,” Jacobs says.
“It is not always easy to recognize sexual abuse, and it can even be more difficult to prove that abuse has happened,” Jacobs says. “Talking with your child or a professional about your concerns is very important. There is hope and healing for the survivors. It takes courage and hard work. Keep in mind there is no quick fix and such a journey to healing should not be done alone. Seek out your community resources and get the help you need.”
It’s vital for parents to teach children and teens appropriate behavior so they aren’t in a situation where they may be viewed as a sexual harasser. Teens should be taught to avoid joking about sex, labeling other people, spreading rumors or gossip, touching others inappropriately without consent or disrespecting a date. When someone says “no” or “stop,” they should stop.