Tuesday, November 8, 2011
This week, the American Association of University Women released information from a study that said that almost half of students in grades 7-12 have experienced sexual harassment in the last school year. Although more girls than boys reported being the target of sexual harassment at school, defined by the nonprofit research organization as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically,” boys and girls alike were identified across the board as harassers and victims. Rumors and jabs about students’ promiscuity and sexual orientation looked to be a significant part of the reported behavior, and victimized students reported deleterious tangible effects of the harassment that resulted in physical ailments and missed school days.
It is very interesting that most of the concentration of awareness, prevention efforts, and campaigns around schools has dealt primarily with the problem of bullying, when, in fact, the nature of the bullying has apparently been so overwhelmingly sexualized and gendered. This is especially ironic when one notes the fact that in the workplace, bullying is wholly lawful, while sexual harassment may result in corporate liability. Even more ironic and unfortunate, because sexual orientation is not a protected class status under federal law, many courts have rejected harassment claims made by homosexuals because although in many cases, they are being abused because of their failure to conform to gender norms, the courts see them as trying to advance claims that are ultimately not cognizable. Referring to someone’s sexual orientation (actual or perceived) as the reason for an adverse employment action is similarly seen as lawful under federal law. Moreover, in all but a few courts, “generalized vulgarity,” even that of a somewhat sexual nature, so long as it is not directly targeted at one sex, is seen as lawful as well.