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Society Needs To Put In Real Work To End Sexual Harassment

As parents and educators, we know children need to learn social emotional skills, which include respecting relationship boundaries.

01/26/2018 10:50 EST | Updated 01/26/2018 13:16 EST

They were all little boys once, these men of power and privilege, who made headlines with sexual harassment allegations. This negative use of personal power is learned behaviour, a choice made in relationship interactions. When did these men make that decision to use their power in a negative way?

Perhaps more to the point, how can we, as a society, effect change to ensure a future free of sexual harassment? One step is to begin in childhood. It is through healthy interactions with parent and peers, at home and school, that children develop the interpersonal skills to maintain positive relationships.

As parents and educators, we know children need to learn social emotional skills (SEL,) which include respecting relationship boundaries. There are many SEL initiatives available to schools, but their effect lies with both choosing the right program and a commitment by school administration for delivery across every grade. As a SEL facilitator and trainer, I have experienced firsthand the positive effect of SEL programming as a school wide initiative.

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An example of purposeful SEL programming having a positive effect is found in the work of Lee Paiva. She became aware of the rape culture among the youth of Kenya over a decade ago. She viewed it as a "rights atrocity" and the result of "egregious gender-related power imbalance." With the lofty goal of creating gender equity, she instituted the No Means No Woldwide-NMNW program. It has become a measurable proven model in primary rape prevention. Central to this program is that children learn to discipline their thoughts and control the urge to act impulsively.

Empowerment is a main focus of the girl's programming, and the boys gain strength in their collective determinationto make the right choices. All of this is to create a culture of mutual respect.

Perhaps most compelling, and one of the key elements to effecting real change with this program in Kenya, is that there's been a 73 per cent success rate with boys intervening to prevent assault. The bystander can be a significant part of changing negative to positive outcomes when they choose to intervene.

Paiva focused on a proactive program to mitigate a rape culture that existed. Her ground breaking initiative is an example to the world. The statistics are very compelling. In the past eight years there's been a 51 per cent decrease in rape. After the training, 50 per cent of all girls stop rape themselves.

Sexual harassment is steeped in negative use of power and patriarchy.

"What we need to do is build training capacity in human beings and then train kids to use what is already within themselves," notesCatherine Maternowska Senior Research Specialistat UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.

Sexual harassment is steeped in negative use of power and patriarchy. That historical truth was the catalyst for the #Metoo movement. Most recently added was the #MetooK12 to address sexual harassment in schools.

It will take a unified effort to combat this issue. We have the information, the skills, the training programs to end this violence worldwide. Let us move beyond reactive aftershock and start from here training and educating young people. Help them to understand personal limits and boundaries. Where applicable, provide protective training that may involve defensive arts.

Each one of us in society has a part to play in eliminating sexual harassment.

Parents can impact the future of sexual harassment by example, and through meaningful discussion with their children. A respected good friend shared this parenting story. It involved a conversation he had with his teen-aged son a few years ago. It was a brave and bold discourse about sex. He knew his son was on the verge of becoming sexually active. His motivation for the discussion was to ensure that his son understood that sex involves two people, both equally looking for satisfaction. To be mindful of and respectful of the other's limits and boundaries was another important message. These are not easy parent discussions and go beyond the basics of explaining the sex act. However in order to ensure a world that is harassment free, we need to be pro-active in our parenting.

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Reactive aftershock is only a beginning. Each one of us in society has a part to play in eliminating sexual harassment. We do it as educators with relevant school programming. We do it as my friend did with his percipient parenting and we do it as a society that refuses to be bystanders and stands up to those that harass. It won't be a quick fix as Paiva's decade long quest for gender equity in Kenya can attest.

We need to "lean into the discomfort" of the task, according to Professor Brené Brown. Being authentic and dealing directly with difficult issues opens us up to a vulnerability and discomfort, but the result is a whole-hearted life with purpose and meaning.

The proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" reminds us that it will take that same global village to solve this problem. All of society must come together to end sexual harassment.

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