Parents, caregivers, teachers, and educators hold great responsibility in the physical, mental, and emotional care of the children who fall within their responsibility.
We need to be the voice for those who do not have the capacity to speak up for and defend themselves. This requires us to find a voice within in ourselves and have the courage to speak out on behalf of the victims under our care. It is part of our responsibility to ensure our actions are responsible and backed by the most recent knowledge and legal policies relative to the environment we are tasked to manage children within.
In a world where our children are increasingly exposed to and vulnerable to harassment and abuse, parents, educators, lawyers, and early childhood development practitioners need to continue to shine the light on the subject of child sexual harassment and gender violence.
This requires that we are familiar with creating and setting policies in place in our particular field of focus so we may empower the children themselves, take the required action for their protection, and join with the many voices working for preventative methods rather than reactively having to pick up the pieces once the damage has been wreaked on a young child’s mind and body.
This requires we open our minds further to what we think we might know.
As new research in sociology and early childhood development education is revealed, we need to stay abreast of changes in child social behaviour, the law, and our role in responsibilities towards children which enable us to broaden our own perspectives on child sexual harassment and abuse.
It has been my life’s work empowering young children with a voice to protecting themselves from sexual harassment. My research as a doctor of sociology reveals that sexually harassing behaviours start on the playground from as young as age 5.
As founder of the Voice of the Child Association, I aim to reach as many schools, educators, and activists with the knowledge and power of my educational programmes as a tool for prevention, so that we can turn back the tide on the trauma and heavy costs of having to repair lives once sexual abuse and gender violence has occurred.
I invite you to contact me should you be interested in bringing any of my ‘Taking a Stand’ age-appropriate prevention programmes into your teaching facility, or if you need help in handling a situation of sexual bullying or gender violence currently taking place.
The Pillars of Reporting Sexual Harassment
Understand that sexual harassment is not just a female issue. Both girls and boys can be victims or harassers, and harassment occurs between children of the same or opposite sex.
The already unfamiliar topic of sexual harassment and abuse among children themselves can bring its own set of complexities, which is why reporting and pre-planned policy is essential in guiding the process from first knowledge at reporting, to finalisation at school and crimes court level.
Parents and educators need to assure they are not taken by surprise and caught lacking in an adequate response as the trusted adult that the victim has chosen to share their traumatic experiences with.
Sexual harassment reporting requires professional decisions, made quickly and usually under pressure.
Principals and Education Departments create a foundation for a school or college’s best practice when we pre-plan policy and provide effective training for educators in sexual violence and sexual harassment reporting.
This means involving everyone in the school or college, including the governing body or proprietor, all the staff, children, adult students, and parents and carers in all areas of the phenomena of sexual harassment, abuse, and the steps required when managing incidences.
The First Steps
It is essential that educators, teachers, parents, and principals know the legal age requirements of consent for sexual acts in the country, state or institution when we are working with young children.
All reporting of sexual harassment and abuse is usually a legal or constitutional requirement for children under the age of 18.
No child under the age of 12 is capable of consenting to any sexual act.
Sexual intercourse without consent is rape in all instances.
Any attempt, conspiracy, or incitement to commit a sexual offence is deemed as unlawful as the physical acts themselves.
Children are required to be protected in the learning environment that is free from violence, this includes sexual harassment as a form of violence.
Verbal harassment is more common than physical, sexual harassment or sexual assault, but it is considered just as serious as the latter acts themselves.
It is the legal obligation of educators and parents to report any form of maltreatment of children to social welfare or the police. This includes when sexual harassment of children is taking place at school either by educators or by other learners.
This requires that all parents and school and college staff have an understanding of what sexual violence and sexual harassment might look like and what to do if they have a concern or receive a report of an incidence.
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are three times more likely to be abused than their peers.
Children who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans (LGBT) are likely to be targeted by their peers.
When referring to sexual harassment we mean ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’ that can occur online and offline. There are many specific understandings of this, both legally and as a doctor of sociology, and I invite you to contact me directly on my details below, if you are not clear.
Addressing inappropriate behaviour in young children can be an important intervention that helps prevent problematic, abusive and/or violent behaviour as adults in the future.
Children displaying harmful sexual behaviour have often experienced their own abuse and trauma. It is important that they are offered the appropriate support.
Why is there under-reporting of sexual harassment and abuse?
Many learners find it difficult to speak out for fear of the stigma that may be attached to them when it comes out publically.
There is a very real fear of not being believed by an adult.
Victims often fear being blamed for the abuse which is an all too often occurrence.
Where a parent or a teacher is the abuser, the power relations often intimidate children into silence.
Learners who abuse others are also often school bullies, and victims are intimidated into not reporting it.
There might be an inability of learners to talk about sexual matters with adults, for cultural or other reasons.
Many schools have poor and ineffective management systems and lack basic rules and regulations that are understood and adhered to by all educators or are applied consistently.
With no common understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment, many schools and colleges fail to acknowledge; or play down incidents of sexual abuse – often for fear of damaging the ‘reputation’ of the school or their ‘star’ student who is involved.
Within greater society there remains confusion about what is socially acceptable, unacceptable, and criminal, both in relation to abuse and to sexual harassment.
Best Practices for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Abuse
Your initial response is important in taking the appropriate steps in supporting the child in the event of sexual harassment.
All victims must be taken seriously, reassured they will be supported, and kept safe.
Victims must never be made to feel like they are creating a problem by reporting an incidence.
Sometimes the report may be given by a friend of the victim or is something overheard in a conversation that conveys that a child is being harmed.
It is important to understand why the victim has chosen not to report the problem directly themselves, and educators must never assume someone else is handling the problem.
It is important that the victim is made to understand that the sexual abuse is not their fault.
Do not promise the victim’s confidentiality at the initial stage of them sharing information with you, as it is likely you will have to share further with other professionals or school management to discuss next steps.
Staff should only share the report with those people who are necessary in order to progress it. It is important that the victim understands what the next steps will be and who the report will be passed to.
A child is most likely to share information with a person they trust. Be supportive and respectful and listen carefully. Be non-judgmental, clear about boundaries, and how the process will unfold further.
Do not ask leading questions and only prompt the child with open-ended questions, such as where, when, what, and who. Make notes while remaining engaged with the child.
Be aware that any report you make to management may be used as evidence in a future case of law and in the further related support by outside agencies if a crime has been committed.
Is there a clear policy of reporting sexual harassment and abuse in your school or educational institution?
Do you need help in setting up appropriate sexual harassment prevention programs within your teaching facility?
Visit www.global.voiceofchild.co.il for more information or email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org