– David M. Hall, Ph.D., Innovative Learning Institute
In suburban Philadelphia, a football team at an elite public school sexually humiliated the freshman varsity players every week on “No-Gay Thursday.” One freshman tried to walk away from this ritual and two seniors grabbed him and held him down while a third penetrated his rectum with a broom handle. The District Attorney has declined to prosecute this as a sex crime. His decision, a moral outrage, only endangers more children. Boys will be boys, appears to be the mantra.
I do not know what sort of education those children received about bullying and sexual assault, but I know that it did not work.
Parents and educators are inundated with media stories of the horrors of bullying and sexual assault. However, we need more exposure to the best research to prevent such behavior in the first place.
These four steps will reduce sexual assault and bullying:
1. Educate Children about Bullying and Sexual Assault
Does your child know that bullying involves an imbalance of power, repeated attempts, and an intent to do harm? Does your child understand that is mandatory to respect sexual boundaries and only act with consent?
Understanding the correct answers to these questions are critical whether the child is the target of abuse, the perpetrator of abuse, or the bystander of abuse. Perpetrators need to understand that what they are doing is wrong and expect to be held accountable. Targets need to know that they must tell a trusted adult. Bystanders must intervene.
2. Provide Kids with Research-Based Messages
Our children cannot afford for us to be quiet in the face of rampant misinformation. We need them to understanding that (a) intervening is appropriate and expected; (b) misinformation such as victim-blaming needs to be corrected and addressed; (c) change harmful attitudes about bullying, harassment, and sexual assault; (d) increase not just knowledge; (e) address gender roles that too often normalize such abuse.
3. Develop Fewer Abusers
If we want to reduce bullying, we need fewer bullies. If we want to reduce rape, we need fewer rapists. In a case like the one from suburban Philadelphia, it seems like the D.A. identifies with the perpetrators rather than the victim. Indeed, had strangers entered the school and committed the assault, I have no doubt that there would be charges of involuntary sexual assault. Children are getting messages that are dangerous not just for victims but also for themselves. We need to raise children to understand that part of their character requires not preying on others. We need children to focus on their own behavior and know that adults will hold them responsible for their abusive behavior.
4. Empowering Bystanders
Bystanders have a moral responsibility to intervene. Sometimes merely saying, “All right, leave him alone,” is enough. Sometimes the kid getting pulled into perpetuating the bullying or sexual assault can stop it with a simple, “It’s not worth getting in trouble. Cut it out.”
If the bystander doesn’t intervene at the time, they must tell a trust adult. If that adult doesn’t respond properly, then tell another trusted adult. Repeat until someone hears you.
Sometimes adults assume that bystanders know that they should intervene. The truth is that many do not. They need us to teach them. They need help critically thinking about what they would do in this situation.
What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments below.
Dr. David M. Hall, who has blogged for CNN and is the author of Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment, is the director of a graduate program which offers an online masters degree in social and emotional learning. The program includes a badge certificate in bullying prevention and diversity. You can learn more about the program by clicking here.