How A Girl Scout Fought Sexual Harassment At School

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When Natalie, 13, swung open the door to her school’s administration office and said, “Someone is going to listen to me,” everyone turned their heads in shock. She addressed the teachers, “Everyone should know that sexual harassment is going on in our school, and something should be happening to stop it. If you do not know, then this is not being taken care of properly…everything I have reported is not being discussed with the staff, and it should be. Everyone should be aware because it is a real thing that is happening every single day.”

This was moments after a boy in Natalie’s class kept getting closer to her even after she continued to move away from him. Saying things to make her uncomfortable, he touched her leg. That’s when she immediately got up, left the classroom, and went straight to the office.

Natalie, a Rhode Island eighth-grader who says she would rather not print her last name because of the sensitive nature of the story, credits being in Girl Scouts with helping her speak up. The Girl Scouts of the USA have recently taken a proactive stance on the issue, providing parents with information that helps them talk to their daughters from a young age. Among the advice: Reminding them that harassment and sexist behavior is never their fault and there’s no need to be nice or polite in the face of damaging behavior.

The incident with the boy touching her leg was the last straw for Natalie. She was overwhelmed and confused with comments that boys at her school regularly made to her and other girls. “There were comments about how I looked in my gym shorts compared to the sweatpants I usually wear. A couple very threatening, vulgar comments that could have warranted filing a report with the police,” she stated.
Before Natalie finally stormed into the office, she had continuously reported the treatment to her school’s administration, without much of a response. She told other kids, and heard things like, “You should take that as a compliment” and “They’re just saying you have a nice body.”
But it’s a “compliment” Natalie was not okay with. It was affecting her work and how she felt around other students. She says some of the girls at school don’t like her because they’re friends with the students she’s filed complaints against — “but I still reached out to them and told them that I know how they are feeling inside.”
“I didn’t want to be sick to my stomach all day at school, then come home, slam my door, lay my back against it, and cry for not just myself, but for all the other kids who are being sexually harassed and won’t say anything to anyone,” says Natalie, who has received her Silver Award for work with her school’s theater department, and plans on working toward her Gold Award in high school.
With more than one in 10 girls catcalled before her 11th birthday, and more than one in six girls in K-12 having faced gender-based harassment, conversations about sexual harassment have inevitably reached schools. But Girl Scouts’ Chief Girl & Parent Expert Andrea Bastiani Archibald says parents and administrators can be reluctant to have them, often because they think girls are too young for these topics.

The Girl Scouts don’t think so.

“We’re raising a community of nearly 2 million girls here at Girl Scouts,” Bastiani stated. “We like to pick up on topics that families are talking about.” At the heart of the effort, she says, is the website Raising Awesome Girls, which in addition to sexual harassment tackles everything from deployed parents to school dress codes to bullying.

Bastiani Archibald says it’s crucial to start talking to girls about boundaries when they’re young, even when you’re not yet using the term “sexual harassment.”

“Around preschool and even younger, we can talk to them about our bodies, that no one has the right to touch them without permission. Teach them about respect, boundaries, being private. When we start these conversations early, our girls pick up that no topic is off-limits,” and are then emboldened to speak up if something happens to them, she says. She adds that the media and TV can be useful conversation-starters with children. “You could be watching a TV show and say something like, ‘That was kind of a disparaging remark he made about her.'”

Natalie says that conversations she’s had with other Girl Scouts have helped give her courage to speak up.

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