- Accessible Information and Prevention Strategies Related to Student Sexual Harassment: A Review of Students Harassing Students
The problem of sexual harassment in schools creates devastating emotional, psychological, and educational effects among students. More than three-fourths of students report that they have been sexually harassed at school. The effects of this harmful torment can range from feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to suicidal thoughts and a significant drop in school attendance and learning (pp. ix–xi). The author of the book Students Harassing Students, Dr. Jan Cantrell, notes that although more school sexual harassment policies were put into place between 1993 to 2001, sexual harassment in schools still increased during this period (p. 3). In light of increased bullying in schools and recent school-related suicides stemming from sexual harassment, the content of this book serves as an apt response to a growing issue in schools. Students Harassing Students presents three main goals: to educate parents and educators on the scope of the problem of sexual harassment; to inform students that they can receive help; and to convey the knowledge that sexual harassment among students can be decreased (p. xi). Cantrell relays these points through setting up each chapter systematically to illustrate a case study and clear definitions, legal issues, suggested solutions, and thoughtful preventions related to the chapter topic.
There are many strengths to Cantrell’s book. It is quite clear that the author feels strongly about this subject, has gathered extensive information on the topic, and understands the school environment. Cantrell references large-scale, comprehensive reports, and past and current case law and policies, thereby giving a thorough look into the different components of this serious issue. The content of the book is spread among ten chapters which address the following topics: the scope and frequency of sexual harassment in schools; the definition sexual harassment; guidance for teachers and counselors on identifying and targeting sexual harassment behaviors; preventing harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students; addressing electronic manifestations of sexual harassment; legal issues and policy development; and finally, addressing parents, students, and administrators. Cantrell defines sexual harassment using a description from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This definition states that like all other forms of sexual assault, “sexual harassment includes a wide range of behaviors including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment”.
Cantrell goes beyond merely looking at occurrence rates of sexual harassment in schools- she provides insight on why such incidents occur. The author succinctly outlines the reasons for peer-on-peer sexual harassment: the student is unaware that his/her action is sexual harassment; [End Page 77] the student is trying to look “cool”; the actions are accepted as normal; the student wants to gain power; or the student continues to harass peers because there are no consequences to his or her actions (p. 7). Cantrell does an excellent job of providing succinct explanations of administrative policies and easy-to-understand definitions and goes even further by exemplifying real-world situations with examples and case study assignments. In fact, the majority of the book concentrates on case studies, which Cantrell uses to ground her recommendations for school responses to sexual harassment. For instance, one specific case study illustrates the struggle of a homosexual male high school student who is constantly assaulted, verbally and physically, by his peers. Cantrell highlights legal protections for the student such as Title IX and then provides specific recommendations for how school personnel should react to such situations in their respective school environments. Specifically, if peers are questioning another student’s sexual orientation, Cantrell states that a school official “should be the role model and treat the subject in a mature, non-biased way” (p. 60). Cantrell also urges school personnel to make “clearly defined guidelines about intolerance [to] name calling or harassment” (p. 60).
Despite Cantrell’s organized and comprehensive exploration of school sexual harassment, Students Harassing Students makes several...