Sexual Harassment at Schools Must Stop

Due to the recent sexual harassment stories surfacing about Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, it was interesting to note that a new study surfaced Monday about school-age sexual harassment. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a major national study on 7-12th grade sexual harassment. Over nearly 2000 boys and girls from public and private schools were surveyed online in May and June 2011 on whether they had experienced sexual harassment.

The AAUW findings indicate that during the 2010-11 school year 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person, electronically via texting (some refer to it as sexting), email and/or social media. One of the reports co-authors, director of research Catherine Hill, said, “It’s reached a level where it’s almost a normal part of the school day.”

It was alarming to me that only 9 percent of students reported incidents to a teacher, guidance counselor or any other adult at the school. Others did report it to parents or friends, yet 50 percent told nobody. When I was principal of a Santa Clara County middle school we developed a school wide slogan that if students see something or hear something or feel something that they deem cruelly offensive or potential for harm to others, they must say something to an adult. We believed that everyone in the entire learning community was obligated to share in keeping the school climate free from harassment or violence of any kind.

I could attest as a former middle school principal that sexual harassment is harmful to a productive educational environment and must be dealt with seriously and consistently. Yet that is not easy to do, especially in these times when we have reduced counselors and support staff from the school environment due to budget cuts. Our children should and must be the most precious resource.

I vividly remember the day almost 10 years ago that my guidance counselor came to talk with me about three girls complaining to her of continued sexual harassment from a popular boy. Their stories to the guidance counselor seemed to be more serious than sexual harassment. In this case, while running in physical education class, far from the teachers’ supervisory gazes, this boy would grab them and touch them on their buttocks repeatedly over a number of days. The girls felt violated, and on this particular they day were in tears.

There are state and federal laws for serious sexual harassment that interferes with a student’s right to an education. Title IX federal regulations also apply. However, in the case above, the counselor and I interviewed the girls, witnesses and the alleged perpetrator. We thought it would be prudent to involve our Safe School Officer, an employee of the local city’s police department, who consulted with his superiors and determined the 8th grade middle school boy may have committed an act of sexual battery.

The penal code defines sexual battery as follows: “any person who touches an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of a misdemeanor sexual battery…” I am concerned that some educators will interpret the report as minimizing sexual battery and subsume it in the context of sexual harassment. Educators must draw distinctions between malicious rumors, lewd cell phone photos and the hands of a perpetrator groping at the intimate part of another person. All are hurtful, some are unlawful and others are criminal. On that fateful day 10 years ago, the boy was arrested and taken to juvenile hall for trial.

There is definitely overlap between issues of bullying and sexual harassment. On Nov. 16, at approximately 6pm at the Ridder Park Drive Office of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the task force that has been working on the eradication of bullying will give their report and recommendations. The task force was chaired by former San Jose Vice Mayor Judy Chirco, and it included diverse members of the community at-large.

In their report to the Board, they say “it is clear, based on the information culled from the California Healthy Kids Survey Data 2007-09, that there should be concern for the physical and emotional safety of the students in Santa Clara County. The task force also recognized the devastating effect bullying can have on a single child who can feel ostracized to the point of suicide… At the core of the outcomes of the task fore is the desire for a change of the culture in schools and communities where bullying is accepted and/or tolerated.”

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Gee Joe

    Not exactly a new topic. Why hasn’t SC County Board of Education, School District Boards,  powerful California Teachers Association solved this major problem ? 

    Oh, we forgot – not enough taxes going to schools. 

    Is this another ” school problem ” that will be used to appeal to voters for new taxes and if not enough support will another task force then will look for a “school problem” that voters to fix will vote in new school taxes

    Will task force ( surprise ) recommend higher school taxes ?

    When will all governments, every school districts, liberals and Democrats get it – No New Taxes until economy recovers and then maybe samm increases if government / school show they will not waste taxes an d onlt spend on government services not tax subsidies, higher than private employer pensions and tax giveaways

    • Caring only about their tax bill and not the health and safety of their community and its children. His point had nothing to do with new taxes or needing more money. It’s about instituting a culture that teaches students they should speak up if someone is being hurt or is in danger.

      No wonder our political system is broken. Half of the people aren’t even listening; they’re too busy tightly gripping their wallets.

      • I agree with the message.  We have to control the taxes. Take a look at everything we do on a daily bases.  Food, gas, house, pay check, etc.  They all have a common denominator.  Taxes.  We should just have teachers dedicate 10 mins. to the situation and back to math english and science.  Mandatory P.E. our kids health is at risk more than ever.  Maybe with P.E. we can get rid of some of the pent up bullying harrasment and get the kids healthy!

  2. > Sexual Harassment at Schools Must Stop

    Did I miss something, Joe?

    Is there someone out there advocating that sexual harassment in schools should continue?

    Oh, right.  The North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).

    I think they’re one of the groups that defines STOPPING their kind of sexual harassment as “bullying”.

  3. Once upon a time, there used to be a unique feature in schools, a feature which could be relied upon to make sure that such depradations as Mr. DiSalvo described would happen a maximum of once.

    The name of that feature, you might ask?  Discipline.

    Not just from the school, not just from the male parents and/or siblings of the violated girl(s), but also from the parent(s) of the violator as well. 

    Unfortunately, in the incident described by Mr. DiSalvo, it took multiple complaints in order to bring the perpetrator to heel, and by that time he had so transgressed common courtesy and standards of behavior that he had to be arrested and taken to Juvie.

    One has to wonder what would have happened in that scenario if the young man in question had faced appropriate discipline at the first complaint.  A couple of swats across the backside with a paddle probably would have done that young man wonders.  Had the young man been removed from that school population for his multiple misdeeds, Mr. DiSalvo probably could have avoided a whole bunch of grief and distress for the girls in question.

    However, given the facts at hand from Mr. DiSalvo’s story, I’m pretty sure that this young man’s mother would tell anyone and everyone that her Darling Johnny would never do such a thing and that the girls are making it all up to get his attention, and that any such correction would be a Gross Overreach of Authority by the school staff, not to mention being extremely hurtful to Darling Johnny’s self-esteem.

    Such is the way of the post-1970’s Pubblick Skool in California.

  4. Wonderful! This is a topic whose time has come! While we are examining this terrible problem lets lets not overlook the rampant sexual harasment being perpetrated by boys claiming to be homosexuals against both girls and boys. The girls don’t complain because “the boys are gay” and their deviant / criminal behavior is dismissed as “harmless.”  The boys who have rejected unsolicited homocentric sexual banter, or have been victims of sexual battery (unsolicited kisses and groping of genitals)hand chosen to defend themselves from overly agressive gay teens are labelled as “homophobes.”

    Teachers who disagree with the bull-dyke assistant principal are recommended for “sensitivity training!”

    Yes Joe there are problems that need to be addressed and Herman Cain is the least of our worries.

  5. Rely To “Typical Republican”  comments

    Another name calling response from “Typical Republican ” rather than address the issues of school district creating task forces that don’t solve problems with very predicable primary solution to almost every problem is higher and more new taxes

    Throwing more taxes at schools without significant reforms in how schools are run and children educated is done is will only create more budget and education problems as California schools get worst and children’s education continues 2-3 decades long decline

    Joe said ” Yet that is not easy to do, especially in these times when we have reduced counselors and support staff from the school environment due to budget cuts. ” 

    Apparently you missed Joe’s budget comment, don’t read Joe’s weekly blog or his constant push for higher and new school taxes as his solution to most schools problems rather that what has been suggested by many:

    – consolidate school districts to reduce overhead, administrators and School Boards freeing up tens millions for classroom

    San Jose has 19 school district which occurred in 1950-60’s when city got an exception to 1 school district per city California state law when San Jose annexed many county parcels and Alviso so voters would not turn down annexations which would have occurred if their local school would be added to SJ Unified

    – We continue to educate children like we did 40-60 years ago rather than use technology, individual self paced education, year round schools and other

    There is no disagreement that “Our children should and must be the most precious resource.” but government’s only solution sadly is to higher taxes and new taxes when California already has very high taxes which has been shown for years to drive needed businesses, jobs and highly employable educated residents out of California and 2010 census confirmed

    No, I am not Republican, but California born Democrat who is tired of gross city, school district and state mismanagement with politically lobbied excessive government benefits and pensions that private employees do not have but are required to pay for

    Almost everyone thinks it is wrong and unfair for corporate Presidents and top management to get millions per year while worker get minimum wages

    It is also unfair and wrong for government employees to get very high benefits and mid 50’s retirement worth millions per employee that typical taxpayers do not get but have to pay very high taxes to pay for while service taxes pay for are cut year after year and schools decline year after year

    Raising taxes but not solving budget and management problems will not make our schools and governments productive and best in world just drive jobs, businesses and residents out of California

  6. Seems strange to me , we have the ED CODE and the PENAL CODE and the by-LAWS of Local school districts that already prohibit “sexual harassment”  Same laws , and many laws . Yet no one is enforcing them!

  7. > There is no disagreement that “Our children should and must be the most precious resource.” but government’s only solution sadly is to higher taxes and new taxes when California already has very high taxes which has been shown for years to drive needed businesses, jobs and highly employable educated residents out of California and 2010 census confirmed

    Well, actually there is a disagreement.

    I think Joe and many of his educrat tribesmen might argue that “Our education professionals should and must be the most precious resource.”