K-12 Sexual Harassment: A Few More Thoughts

K-12 Sexual Harassment: A Few More Thoughts

By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | August 11, 2017
Senior Editor, ETR

“I didn’t even know it was sexual harassment.”

These are the words of a female high school student I spoke with recently. She and a male friend were discussing sexual harassment in their school. Girls being called “slut” because they wore a crop top. Hearing the slur “that’s so gay” on a daily basis. Feeling pressure to meet traditional expectations for gender roles. Not knowing how or when to step up and speak up to stop the harassment.

Slap What?

“Oh,” she exclaimed to her friend suddenly, “Do you remember ‘slap-ass Tuesday’ back in middle school?” The young man remembered “slap-ass Thursday.” His male friends looked forward to it, but he never understood why.

“You know, this happened all the way back in elementary school,” the young woman told me. “I was in, like, fifth or sixth grade. I hated it. There were times I didn’t even want to go to school.”

They both agreed no one ever told them this was sexual harassment, or that it was wrong, or that the school had a responsibility to make it stop. I was appalled at her story and angry that this kind of hostile climate had been allowed to persist in their schools.

Now, the recent report from Youth Radio lets us know that slap-ass days are not unique to any one school or district, nor is it unusual for harassment to occur as early as elementary grades. If you haven’t heard the clip, it’s highly recommended.

Most schools and communities still have plenty of work to do to create safe learning environments for students. A lot of the current motivation for schools to improve is coming from students themselves—an inspiring example of youth advocacy and empowerment making a real difference.


Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. She can be reached at


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