Roundtable on sexual harassment: male students share their perspectives

To gain male student perspectives on sexual harassment, we held a round table with five students from different grades and asked them to speak candidly. All names are pseudonyms.  This is what they had to say:

Where do you think the line is drawn between flirting and sexual harassment?
Brian: it depends on how you are with the person
Ivan: there’s flirting and there’s sexual harassment. I think sexual harassment would be getting a little touchy. Flirting would just be talking and having fun, but sexual harassment is getting a little handsy.

Is verbal harassment different than physical harassment?
Tim: It seems like one person does something and it goes unnoticed and unchecked and another person does something smaller and just because of a teacher’s stance with that person or which adult happened to hear it then they’ll get in trouble for less…I feel like it’s not getting enforced properly. They set up these guidelines and half of the teachers enforce it one way and the other half enforce it another way and it leaves us in a blank place where ‘alright what are we doing?’

If a girl is wearing revealing clothing, she will distract male students and make them feel uncomfortable.
Do you agree or disagree?
Tim: I think “distracted” is an awful term ‘cause you always hear it on the announcements like “Oh you’re distracting everyone” but you take a glance and you’re like “alright” and you go on with your life. You don’t sit in class fantasizing for 20 minutes.
Joel: I mean if they were completely naked, that would be a problem…but wearing spaghetti straps or something like that is not the end of the world. I’m not gonna get an F in calculus because someone in front of me wasn’t wearing a 2-inch strap.

Do you think guys are ever sexually harassed?
Brian: Hell yeah! There’s this girl who always stares at me cause she thinks I’m cute and every time she sees me she just slaps me on the ass but…I don’t really care. That’s just how I see it, but maybe some other people might be like…“okay I don’t want you touching me ‘cause I don’t feel comfortable.”
Tim: If people were to do to guys what guys do to girls, it would be considered sexual harassment, but for a lot of the guys, they just don’t care. They don’t have any reason to be scared, there’s no threat. They just take it as a joke and they take it as humor.

Should physical sexual harassment be punished differently than verbal sexual harassment?
Brian: Yeah ‘cause if like someone slaps someone on the ass, it’s like, that’s physical contact. and that’s like yeah, kick them out or suspend them or something. But if you’re just gonna say something like “Damn lil mama what’s good?” or something like that, that shouldn’t be the grounds for expulsion.

Who gets to decide what is and isn’t sexual harassment?
Tim: Well that’s an error on the behalf of the person who did it…it’s the person who received it who gets to decide whether or not it’s sexual harassment…to some extent. You can’t be making false claims.
Josh: Before you say something, know the person you’re talking to and what their preferences are.
Joel: And also, say if you’re making a joke with your friend, and your teacher overhears it and sends you to like the AVP or something, if your friend took it as a joke I feel like your friend should have the voice to say. “No, it wasn’t like that, it was just a joke.”

If someone is sexually harassed, do you think it is likely that they would report it to a teacher or administrator? Would you?
Brian: I wouldn’t personally, because I don’t believe in snitching, I just like to deal with it on my own. But, I can’t speak for anyone else.
Josh: The administration doesn’t know, wasn’t there, doesn’t know exactly what happened, or the people that were involved.

If someone is being sexually harassed repeatedly, despite asking the perpetrator to stop, what should the punishment be for the harasser if the victim eventually reports it?
Joel: Suspended.
Brian: I think he should be expelled, because he did it multiple times. I want to say like, first offense, you get a suspension, second offense, you’re expelled. Like, the way I would see it is maybe he’s interpreting it the wrong way, so he thinks it’ll be okay the first time… But if he does it again and again and again, that’s where he gets kicked out.
Joel: I think that part of the reason some cases don’t get reported is for the fear that, they’ll get in trouble too. Like, say a girl keeps getting sexually harassed, and she goes to the AVP and talks about it, she might be afraid that she’ll get a light punishment too for not being dress code. The AVP’s not going to say, “Oh, it’s your fault,” but maybe there’s a fear that it will be mentioned.