Sexual harassment at school


1. Is ‘bullying’ a problem at your school?
Tell students they are going to see a short video (1:13 minutes) about a special form of bullying. Ask students to think about ‘bullying’ in their own experience. Ask the class to define what ‘bullying’ can mean, get some input from different students. Students can divide into groups of 3-4 and briefly discuss their own personal experiences with bullying, and then give a very short summary. See also the eLesson Inspiration on bullying.

2. A serious form of bullying is ‘sexual harassment’
Ask students if they have ever heard the expression, perhaps in its equivalent in their own L1. ‘Harassment’ is a more formal (and legal) word for abuse. To ‘harass’ means “To subject (another) to hostile or prejudicial remarks or actions; pressure or intimidate,” according to The Free Dictionary.  So ‘sexual harassment’ (SH) has some underlying ‘sexual’ aspect, often (but not always) by boys directed at girls, men at women. It can occur anywhere in most societies but is frequently on the street, in the workplace – and especially among pupils at school.
Tell students they are going to watch a brief video of a teenage British girl, Victoria, talking about her experience with sexual harassment at school and what she did about it. For starters, ask students what forms they think that SH can take. After a minute of discussion, suggest that it can take many forms, verbal and physical: from inappropriate comments and jokes about a person’s looks, body, sex life to unwanted touching, hugging or kissing  — and even demands for sexual favors.


knock back (British colloquial expression here)    laugh off     sort of …    deal with
speak out       challenge    (↠see also 15. below)


1. Play the whole brief video, available here:
It was first aired on Sky News in the UK on 13 September 2016.
Ask students to briefly summarize what happened to Victoria.
2.  Now play the brief clip a second time. At 0:05 min, Victoria says a boy commented on something. What is she referring to? She says she didn’t know how to “respond to it.”  What does ‘respond’ mean in this context?  She then says the comment “damaged my confidence quite significantly.”  What does she mean? Does she think she was alone with this problem?  What does she say (min. 0:12-15)?  What was the reaction of others as she describes it?   So what did Victoria do then (min. 0:26)?

What were her immediate feelings?  Was she confused? She uses the British expression “knocked back,” meaning in US English “taken aback,” i.e. unpleasantly surprised and confused, made to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed. Did she talk about this with her friends?  What did she do then?  Was she satisfied with the school’s response?  She says  (min. 0:47) “so again, I felt quite alone in my situation.”  How did she know “the problem was happening to more than just me” (min. 0:54)? She says (min. 0.59): “I felt I had to challenge the situation.”  What does that mean?   How does Victoria end her statement?

3. Do students agree with her?  This video has full subtitles. Do students prefer that?


1. TELL STUDENTS: It is recognized as a serious problem in UK schools.  A recent article in The Guardian (2016) noted: “More than a fifth of girls aged seven to 12 have experienced sexual jokes from boys; almost a third of 16- to 18-year-old girls have suffered unwanted sexual touching.”
In the workplace: “More than half of women say they have been sexually harassed at work and most admit to not reporting it. […]  A survey of 1,500 women saw 52% cite the problem and also found a third had been subjected to unwelcome jokes and a quarter experienced unwanted touching. TUC head Frances O’Grady said it left women feeling ashamed and frightened.”
MONSTER (2016) notes: “Sexual harassment in the workplace is, unfortunately, something that some people will face during their working lives. One in five of calls to the Equal Opportunities helpline are regarding sexual harassment, with 40% of complainants being male, despite the widely perceived perception that women are the usual victims.”  The workplace is of course only the extension of the school.
2. ASK STUDENTS: Is it a problem in their own school, among their friends, maybe in their  country also at work?  Have boys experienced this in some way – for example being bullied by other boys into sexually harassing some girl to “prove their masculinity.” Or pursued by girls (or perhaps other boys) in a way that is likewise SH? It definitely happens. How ‘masculinity’ is socially constructed is itself an important related focus (Horbacher, 2016).

3. Give students this brief text from Simple Wikipedia to read:
It notes that a study in the U.S. in 2011 “found that 48% of the 1,965 students surveyed had been sexually harassed. 9% reported the harassment to an adult who worked at school. Girls were more likely to be sexually harassed than boys. Girls are more likely to say that sexual harassment has affected them in a bad way.”

4. Durban (2016) has a useful categorization of sexual harassment that students can be introduced to:


  • Comments about appearance, body or clothes
  • Indecent remarks
  • Questions or comments about your sex life
  • Requests for sexual favours
  • Sexual demands made by someone of the opposite sex, or even your own sex
  • Promises or threats concerning a person’s employment conditions [or perhaps even course grade as a student  –B.T.] in return for sexual favours


  • Looking or staring at a person’s body
  • Display of sexually explicit material such as calendars, pin ups or magazines


  • Physically touching, pinching, hugging, caressing, kissing
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape

4a. This animated U.S. video provides a good and engaging introduction to modes of sexual harassment at school:

5. How to deal
with SH at school
Ask students to read “How to deal with sexual harassment in school,” a wikiHow (2016a) suggestion.  What are its main points? It notes: “The definition of sexual harassment is unwelcome words or conduct of a sexual nature that have the purpose or effect of creating an embarrassing, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is up to you to take the first action. You could be saving not only yourself from harassment, but others as well.” SH at school can of course also be at the hands of a teacher or other staff employee, not another pupil.

6. How to deal with sexual assault
Most students will we hope never have to deal with a sexual assault of any kind. But there is a brief wikiHow (2016b) “How to cope with sexual assault” that students can read, ponder and discuss.

7. Personal discussion in groups of 3-4

Ask students to break into smaller groups and discuss their own experience with sexual harassment. Teachers can decide if some groups should be only a single gender.  Boys may want to discuss their own behavior perhaps committing some form of SH.

8. Interviewing other students
One project several students could develop is to interview a group of pupils/students at their school or elsewhere regarding their experiences with sexual harassment, writing up some of the findings, or reporting on them in class. They could also interview other school classes via the Internet.

8a. One possible focus from collecting interview data or some anonymous narratives  could be writing an article on ‘sexual harassment at school’ to submit to a school or local newspaper to raise local awareness of this problem. One of the focal areas of the street newspaper Balaknama (Children’s Voice), a bi-monthly 8-page paper created and written [!] by Indian slumkids on the street, in Hindi and also with an English edition, is sexual abuse of female and male street kids and their stories (Shafi, 2016).  Writing about Balaknama, Kara (2016) notes: “Street children are among the most marginalized in society, vulnerable to child labor, child trafficking, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, extreme poverty, as well as homelessness.” Students can also watch this Balaknama video (

9. Body imaging
Part of what Victoria discusses has to do with the whole problem of ‘body image’ in today’s societies, and how youngsters view their own body, is it ‘sexy enough’ and all the rest.  Social reproduction shapes how individuals come to view their own body, what is wrong with it (too heavy, unattractive, etc.), what boys and men think ‘attractive,’ etc. Perhaps students can discuss this whole phenomenon of how ‘body image’ is manipulated by the media, including the social media.

9a. Victoria mentions the boy’s comment was about the “size of my chest.” We don’t know what he said. Students can guess. In some societies, esp. the US and UK, breast size has become a key marker of female ‘sexuality.’ How do students view this “social construction of the female body”?  It has a distinctive imaging history bound up with Hollywood films, Playboy magazine and other U.S. ‘cultures of sexiness’ spread from the 1950s around the world. In other societies, such as Hindu and Muslim India, and in the PRC, this largely ‘Western’ imaging of the female body (especially the bosom) plays relatively little or no role.

10. Dress and appearance
We live in consumer cultures where images of what is ‘sexy,’ attractive, can play a role in how teenagers dress at school, what kind of makeup they use. This can also lead to SH. How do students feel about the social pressures exerted on them to conform to certain images in dress as young female and male adults? In many traditional societies and milieus, religion plays a role in shaping a ‘dress code’ for girls and women and concepts of ‘modesty,’ requiring them to ‘cover up.’  Muslims may wear hijab in public, or even the niqab, and in Iran the chador. Girls from Orthodox Jewish families and from a conservative Christian background may be under pressure (or their own sense of identity) to dress very modestly, and may be subject to negative SH for their appearance. Or such girls may decide to dress more ‘freely’ than is customary and be abused by family members and peers, and even called insulting names. In Iran, most teens and women wear a chador in public, but many have very ‘fashionable’ clothes hidden right beneath the staid and modest black, full-length cloak (students can read Nagesh, 2016). This was also my own perception working in southeastern Iran during the 1978 Revolution.

11. Sexting
One aspect online today is the whole phenomenon of ‘sexting’?  “Sexting” is the “act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones” (wikigender, 2016). Ask students what ‘sexting’ means in their own thinking and mobile phone or Internet experience, and their personal experience with actual sexting, if any. The involvement of photos also brings up the broader issue of exposure to porn images online, today far more common that only a few years ago.  Teachers can refer to Davidson (2014), a book-length study on sexting, extract online. Here a video enactment of nude photo sexting:  Here a brief video from the Arkansas police: . The recent suicide of Tiziana Cantone in Italy over a leaked sexual video tape and the abuse she suffered online leading to her suicide is iconic for our times: .

12. Sexual harassment at work
Students may know stories from their family, friends and relative about SH in the workplace, very common in many countries.  Perhaps even their own mother or aunt has experienced SH, students can briefly speak with some of their family members. This could be discussed or written about in a homework assignment. Durban (2016), BBC (2016) and MONSTER (2016) deal with this phenomenon.  The BBC article notes: “The TUC found that in nine out of 10 cases the perpetrator was male and nearly one in five women (17%) said it was their line manager, or someone with direct authority over them. Some 79% of women who said they were victims of sexual harassment did not tell their employer. Reasons given included fear that reporting would affect their relationships at work (28%) or their career prospects (15%). Nearly a quarter (24%) of those who did not report abuse said it was because they felt that they would not be believed or taken seriously and 20% said they were too embarrassed.”  This was based on a study by the TUC. Ask students to find out what the TUC is. Here a U.S. video on SH in the workplace:
Here another:

13. What can be done to counter the problem of SH?
Students can make concrete suggestions.  Victoria found her report to a staff member at school was useless. Read Durban (2016), the section “What can I do about sexual harassment?”  He also suggests keeping a personal diary or journal noting such incidents. Another idea is for classes at school (or groups of girls together) to create such a diary where girls in particular could report some incident. Boys might also be encouraged to note when they or friends have engaged in SH, however painful such an admission may be.

14.  Sex education in your own school and society

One issue worth addressing in terms of curriculum is ‘sex education’ in your own school system, and what can be done to improve and change that in the light of mounting new phenomena relating to sexual harassment, ‘sexting’ and related developments here & now. Guardian sex education (2016) provides a number of links.

15. Vocabulary
As mentioned, Victoria said “I was really knocked back” (0:09 min.), in US English “taken aback,” i.e. unpleasantly surprised and confused, made to feel uncomfortable, disconcerted. But ‘knock back’ has other common meanings, as in “My daughter’s wedding knocked me back a couple of grand.” Students can explore the Free Dictionary entry . ‘Speak out’ and ‘challenge’ are key words. “Students have to learn to speak out against what oppresses them, to challenge the status quo.” Note the phrasal verb ‘laugh off’:  “Some students (and teachers) just ‘laugh off’ sexual harassment, they don’t take it seriously.” What other phrasal verbs with the particle ‘off’ do students know? Show them this list of ‘particle off’ verbs.
Victoria uses the colloquial expression ‘sort of’ (= ‘kind of’, 0:15 min.), saying: ”They just sort of laughed it off, or ignored it or accepted it.” ‘Sort of’ as a modifier means ‘in some way,’ and has become extremely frequent in colloquial talk, esp. among youth, in the states, UK, used before verbs, nouns, as a kind of attitudinal interjection, maybe ‘toning down’ what it modifies or expressing some  ‘hesitation’ about what you’re saying. What is the difference between: “I felt sorry for her” and “I felt sort of sorry for her”? OR: “I’ve heard of that writer” and “I’ve sort of heard of that writer”? “It’s an analysis” and “It’s sort of an analysis”? OR: “I felt sort of, like depressed” and “I felt depressed”? OR: She’s good at playing the flute” and “She sort of good at playing the flute.”? OR: “I had breakfast” and “I sort of had breakfast”? Students should be encouraged to listen for ‘sort of’ in movie and other dialogue and begin to use it in their own talk. See Free Dictionary entry for starters.

Free reading assignment

Several articles suggest ideas for working to challenge and remedy, ‘speak out’ about these problems, intermediate-level students can read more, explore, see bibliography below.

Other videos on SH

There are numerous videos on youtube dealing with SH. Here are two as an introduction:   Boys can also be targeted for SH, as these videos note. Here a series of other videos that students (and teachers) can explore, write about, share:  Pick your own favorite!

Writing assignment  (homework)

1. Ask students to write about their own experience of SH, or what they know from friends. It can be a brief essay on their own thoughts, experiences. Have their ideas about this changed after watching and discussing this video (and perhaps others?  Some students may want write anonymously, this can be encouraged, since it is a highly sensitive topic.

2. Students can write a letter (imagined) by Victoria to a friend in another city, describing her experience, anger and what she thinks should (and could) be done.

3. Students can write a letter about their own experience with SH to a friend, perhaps signed anonymously.  Such letters could be copied and then shared in class, without revealing the name of the author.

4. Some students with LGBT sexuality will have also experienced forms of sexual harassment that might likewise be a topic to address in the broader context of sexual bullying and alternative gender identities. Such bullying of ‘gays’ is widespread.

Issues Month October 2016 Gender Issues
Students (and teachers) can be alerted to relevant material and discussion on the much broader topic and issue of GENDER as highlighted in the GISIG Issues Month focusing on Gender Issues .


Teachers can read more about the problem, see the bibliography. An excellent study from the U.S. is Hill & Kearl (2011). Perhaps they can suggest that the phenomenon be raised with other teachers at the school, and some kind of committee formed to deal with it at school and locally. The committee can also include some pupils/students.  Neighborhood and city-wide consciousness-raising is also necessary. Teachers could collaborate with some students in writing an article on SH for a local paper (as in suggestion 8a. above).


BBC. 2016. Half of women ‘sexually harassed at work’. BBC News, 10 August.
Davidson, Judith. 2014. Sexting: Gender and Teens. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Excerpt:
Durban, Jeff. 2016. Sexual harassment at work. SafeWorkers!, 16 Sept.
Guardian Editorial. 2016. The Guardian View on sexual harassment in schools: action is
needed. The Guardian, 13 Sept.
Guardian sex education. 2016. the guardian
Hill, Katherine  & Kearl, Holly. 2011. Crossing the Line. Sexual Harassment at School.
Washington, DC: AAUW.
Horbacher, Stefan. 2016. Configuring Masculinity in Theory and Literary Practice.  Leiden:
Kara, Nur. 2016. CHETNA creates Balaknama, the world’s first newspaper by and for Indian
street children. india, 5 April.
MONSTER. 2016.  How should I deal with sexual harassment at work? Monster,
Nagesh, Ashitha. 2016. Women in Iran are too hip to handle – even with strict religious
dress laws. Metro, 29 April.
Shafi, Showkat. 2016. India: Street kids publish newspaper to raise awareness. Aljazeera, 7
wikigender. 2016. Sexting: impact on teenage girls. wikigender.
wikiHow. 2016a. How to deal with sexual harassment in school. wikiHow to do anything …
wikiHow. 2016b. How to cope with sexual assault. wikiHow to do anything …

Bill TemplerThis eLesson was created by our very own Bill Templer.

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8 Responses to Sexual harassment at school

  1. Bill Templer October 8, 2016 at 6:25 am #

    Turning to university in the UK, classes on ‘sexual consent’ have been introduced at some universities for first-year students (‘freshers’). Some think these classes should become compulsory. This report (7 Oct 2016) states that 20% of girls suffer sexual harassment during ‘fresher week’ alone:

    University students can read the article, watch the brief video there and discuss.

  2. Bill Templer October 8, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    In a follow-up to discussion about ‘sexual consent’, here a brief introduction to the work of the Good Lad Initiative and its notions of ‘positive masculinity’:

  3. Bill Templer October 22, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    POLICE SEX OFFENDERS: With sexual harassment dominating the US media reportage centering on Donald Trump’s behavior and discourse, investigative journalism (The Times) in the UK has revealed aspects of another largely hidden category of sexual harassment and abuse, namely sexual predation by the police.

    Article in The Times (21 Oct 2016) begins: >Police who abuse their power for sexual advantage face new criminal sanctions as the scale of predatory behaviour by officers is revealed. Forces across the country are examining more than 150 cases of alleged sexual misconduct by police, a Times investigation found. It also uncovered that 400 members of the public have made complaints over the past five years. Many officers stand accused of harassing, sexually assaulting or raping women after they reported a crime. In some cases victims were targeted within police stations. …<

    Here an article in The Mail online: It offers an overview of an emerging scandal focus inside UK policing.

  4. Bill Templer November 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    An article from a scholar, psychology prof., at Durham U in the UK addressing questions of sexual harassment and assault among students on campus.

    Sexual violence on campus: time to put an end to doing nothing. From calling out sexism to empowering students, we must be far more proactive in tackling offences, argues Graham Towl

    He says inter alia: “Tackling what has become known as “everyday sexism” may well also help in establishing an environment where it is no longer acceptable to behave disrespectfully towards each other, either sexually or otherwise. The net impact of all this may very well be fewer sexual offences, while those who do perpetrate such crimes will be more likely to be imprisoned. That will be especially true if the police, victim support charities, university counselling services, student representatives, health providers and university leaders all work together: my experience of working with sex offenders makes abundantly clear the need for such a multi-agency approach.”

  5. Bill Templer November 13, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

    I put a link on the ISSUES MONTH GENDER site to a powerful documentary on the slave bride trade in parts of village India, very young girls trafficked into marriage often far from their own home. Well worth viewing and discussing with students as a primae example of young girl oppression and in many cases female bondage.

  6. Bill Templer October 12, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    The ‘Harvey Weinstein scandal’ has raised questions about widespread sexual harassment in showbiz, specifically in Hollywood. Weinstein, aged 65, has been one of the truly major producers in Hollywood over the years, and his sexual advances toward young would-be starlets were certainly common enough knowledge inside the film industry. But now a no. of women have decided to set up and speak out, with multiple allegations of harassment and sexual assault (rape).

    This a story on the scandal
    Here background on Weinstein (

    Such sexual harassment is not unknown in many areas where women seek a job (in a company, in the local municipality, even as a teacher) and someone in power asks for a favor, tit for tat (no pun intended). Students will know of such stories, rumors, in their own countries or cities. It is the old story of ‘connections,’ what in Germany is called ‘Vitamin B (B for Beziehungen), but not infrequently such ‘ccnnections’ may entail favors from the female job applicants for their future boss.

    It is extraordinary how almost over night, Harvey Weinstein has been turned from one of the most successful moguls in the US film industry and an extremely influential personality in US public life (and friend of Hillary Clinton) into a virtual pariah. Even his British wife has decided to leave him.

    Women in the US are much more prepared today than even a few years ago to speak openly about sexual harassment, the times they are a-changin’. Of course, if Weinstein were not a very wealthy personality, this would not be happening and the media would not in part be creating the situation. The women involved, whom he often helped in their career, are also seeking damages ($$$), i.e. material compensation, the scandal in part is doubtless driven by that. He has confessed to being a ‘sexual addict,’ whatever that can mean.

    Two years ago in 2015, comedian and film star Dr. Bill Cosby faced (and still faces) a number of similar charges. He turned 80 years old [!] this past July. This on Cosby: He earned a Doctor of Education (UMass) degree in 1976 with a dissertation on using his own animated comedy TV series to teach elementary school kids.

    The ‘society of the spectacle’ thrives on such scandal among the high and mighty, a problem Pres. Trump has also had to face, though much more limited in scope. Some of us think it functions to distract people from the real problems in their own lives, in the society. Today the Internet and the social media play a big role in that, central to the ‘society of the digital spectacle.’ .

    This is part of what Henry Giroux calls the ‘politics of disimagination.’ he has written: “…the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.
    The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

  7. Bill Templer February 9, 2018 at 7:27 am #

    This an excellent brief & current analytical article on sexism, sexual harassment and social class:

    ‘The #MeToo Movement and working class men’


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