Sexual harassment agenda strays from equal treatment
By Cathy Young Detroit News
January 20, 1999
No child should have to endure what 10-year-old La-Shonda Davis apparently en-dured from a classmate: The boy not only made obscene gestures and comments about wanting to “get in bed” with her but grabbed her chest and her genitals — while the school ignored repeated complaints from the girl’s parents. So why do I think the Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the parents’ sexual harassment lawsuit against the school district last week, should affirm the lower court decision throwing out the case?
First, the concerns expressed by some of the justices — as Justice David Souter put it, “There is no way to draw a line between every act of teasing and a federal court action” — are valid and serious. With sexual harassment in the workplace, a 1986 Supreme Court ruling in a case that involved charges of repeated sexual assaults by a boss on a subordinate established a legal doctrine that is now used to go after stray off-color remarks.
The same blending of serious and trivial offenses is likely to happen in schools. A 1994 American Association of University Women (AAUW) report on harassment in schools counted sexual jokes and comments as sexual harassment. Already, school workshops use lists of harassing behaviors ranging from rape to winking or calling someone “honey.” In some districts, tots as young as 7 are taught that if another child uses swear words about their buttocks, the proper response is to say, “Stop it! That’s sexual harassment, and sexual harassment is against the law.”
Of course, such rigid policies are even more dangerous in schools than on the job, because some teasing and roughhousing is a normal part of interaction between children.
The other problem is that harassment law treats sexual misconduct not as individual abuse but as sex discrimination. The National Women’s Law Center, which is backing the lawsuit, argues that to ensure equal opportunity in education (as required by Title IX of the 1972 education amendments), girls must be protected from sexual harassment by peers.
But does it make sense to speak of girls being denied equal opportunity when they’re doing better in school than boys? Girls are less likely to drop out of school and to cut classes; surveys find that they are more likely to perceive the school climate as supportive. About 7 percent of school children report not feeling safe in school; in that group, there are somewhat more boys than girls.
Furthermore, sexual teasing in schools is very much a two-way street. The AAUW survey found that 85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys had been “sexually harassed,” and that many “victims” had also been “perpetrators” — though the advocates’ new spin on these inconvenient facts is that the girls are only retaliating against harassment by boys.
In many egregious cases, victims and victimizers are of the same sex. A few years ago, a Los Angeles Times reporter looking into an eighth-grader’s lawsuit over vicious sexual teasing by her schoolmates discovered that while the charges focused on boys’ behavior, the worst abuse came from other girls.
Arguably, schools have an obligation to protect children from bullying, sexual or not. It certainly makes sense that schools should be liable for failing to protect children from criminal assaults, including sexual battery (of which LaShonda’s tormentor was eventually convicted in juvenile court). Whether the federal courts should be involved is another matter. What doesn’t seem right is to give redress under civil rights laws to a girl who is sexually abused by a boy but not to a boy who is brutally beaten by his schoolmates.
The goal of the crusade against sexual harassment in schools is not to promote civility and discipline; it is to promote a polarizing gender agenda. Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of Who Stole Feminism? who is now writing a book about boys, notes that the gender-equity wardens are inclined to view boys mostly as “a menace to girls.” Our children, boys and girls, deserve better.
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