As an Indian-American Ismaili-Muslim student male in high school, I thought I would know how to deal with being a victim of sexual harassment and assault if I experienced it. But as I grew older, I couldn't help but wonder how I would cope with being assaulted.
I’ve become passionate about reducing sexual harassment and assault and embarked on a mission to create positive change in our community. During my journey, I discovered an online resource that I believe every school, parent, and student needs called SASH Club (Students Against Sexual Harassment). Its guide is in the AFT Share My Lesson library, and the website has resources anyone can use — anytime — to stay safe and improve the school climate.
As I learned about sexual assault, I realized that consent is central to all social relationships.
I learned how it’s an ongoing process requiring the enthusiastic and informed participation of all involved. It goes beyond simple verbal agreement and includes prompts like emotional reactions, body language, and visual signs.
Learning more about consent led me to a video called “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!” with examples of non-consensual behavior students experience at school. It shows high school students planning their gender equity club focusing on sexual harassment, a type of discrimination based on sex. During the video, students Skype experts about the types of sex discrimination they witness at school and cover topics like LGBTQ rights, discrimination against girls of color, dating violence, healthy masculinity, getting confidential help after an assault, what to do if the school doesn’t follow Title IX, and youth activism. There are disturbing first-hand accounts from students and families whose lives were shattered by sexual violence and their school’s poor response.
The video was eye-opening because I had never heard of Title IX or a Title IX Coordinator, which every school must, by law, have to address all forms of sex discrimination. The Title IX Coordinator scenario was my favorite. It showed an actor-parent speaking with the Coordinator of the San Francisco Unified School District about the harassment her children experience from peers and a teacher and what actions the Coordinator will take.
I was astonished to learn that nearly 15% of students will be abused by school employees before they graduate.
I learned that many schools don’t respond appropriately — something we can work to change!
Caroline Heldman's segment highlighting the severe impact of sexual objectification enhanced my understanding of consent. She argues that sexual objectification is a degrading problem with devastating consequences: "Our society has made it normal to treat girls and women like objects instead of people,” she says. These damaging assumptions support a culture of dehumanizing misogyny that justifies sexual violence in perpetrators’ minds. It’s essential that my peers understand the connection between consent, sexual objectification, and the alarming rate of sexual violence that begins in K-12 schools.
What Could I Do?
I came across SASH Club (Students Against Sexual Harassment), a project of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools with downloadable tools to prevent and act on sexual harassment and assault in schools and communities. Clubs can meet at school, off-campus, in connection with a community organization, or virtually. The information is helpful for students who lack a trusted adult to discuss sexual harassment and assault with. I especially recommend “Boundaries and Consent” and “Acquaintance Rape and Rape Myths!” on the Resources page. Although my friends and I missed our school’s deadline for starting a club, we can share the resources with other school clubs. The website also has additional activities we can implement without a club. I learned that schools can’t prohibit students from forming a SASH Club. It’s illegal!
Would I Be Able to Cope with Sexual Violence If I Were Victimized?
I had no idea of how devastating sexual abuse is to males until I viewed the video in the presentation, Sexual Harassment and Assault Happen to Males, Too! I can only imagine how people of all genders are impacted. If males realized that one in six of us will be sexually assaulted, with the average first incident at age 10, and that heterosexual men are the majority of perpetrators, we’d be motivated to make change. We must educate ourselves and others about consent, sexual objectification, rape myths, victim-blaming, call-out sexist comments, and stand up for victims. It’s not enough that I behave respectfully. We must actively work to foster a culture that respects each person's intrinsic worth and equality. Each action we take counts!
A short version of this piece appeared in WMC.
- Change in Schools Starts With Listening to Students
- As #MeTooK12 Turns 4, Students Can't Wait for Adults to Make Change
- Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment and Violence: How Far Have We Come? (Ms)
- SASH Club: Shifting School Culture to Combat Sexual Harassment
- Teachers and school staff play an essential role in protecting students from sexual harassment in the classroom. Share this fact sheet.