5 Concrete Ways to Address #metoo and #timesup in International Schools

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Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement

Everybody’s talking about it. #metoo and #timesup are trending hashtags and campaigns that represent an age-old issue: sexual harassment. This is a global phenomenon, and certainly – unfortunately– present in international schools. Whether you’re inspired by Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, or moved by the flood of #metoo’s on your social media feed, or simply realize that you are in a position to make your school a better, safer place for working and learning, here are five concrete ways to start:

  1. Establish a rock-solid policy/plan on sexual harassment. I had the honour of serving on the committee which revised Hong Kong International School’s sexual harassment policy, and I can tell you that crafting an effective one requires a lot of thoughtful effort. Take stock of resources in your locality, read plans from other schools, and write it up in painstaking detail. Don’t assume that everybody agrees on things like the definition of ‘sexual harassment’. Remember to consider what to do if an accused harasser lives on campus or in school housing, a common arrangement in international schools. Waiting until you’ve got a crisis on campus is not the time to think about how to manage it.
  2. Publish your plan everywhere. Your plan will only be useful if people understand how it works, and trust that it will be followed. If students/staff do not know who to go to when they’ve been harassed, or don’t believe that the policy will be enforced, it is useless. Make your policy and plan visible to everyone. Tell families and students about it. Talk about it at staff meetings. Do this routinely, or at least once a year.
  3. Listen to reports of sexual harassment. Believe the reporters. Put your policy/plan into action as soon as someone reports.
  4. Reframe reports of sexual harassment as an opportunity. Nobody looks forward to the HR/PR issues that can come up when sexual harassment takes place within a school community, and there can be a temptation to see reports as a nuisance. Instead, consider that the sexual harassment has already happened, and the school now has a chance to improve the safety of everybody in their community, thanks to the reports. Express gratitude to reporters for their bravery and willingness to help make the school a better place for all.
  5. Turn this into a teachable moment. Children need to be taught the knowledge and skills to deal with sexual harassment, starting from a young age. Leverage this current conversation (or use it as inspiration) to reinforce your school’s curriculum on the topic.

How does your school ensure that community members know what to do in cases of sexual harassment?

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