How to talk to your kids about sexual harassment in wake of Harvey Weinstein scandal
Shame on you, Harvey Weinstein.
That’s been the rallying cry for the last few weeks from a lot of people on social media, on TV news programs and beyond.
The allegations of sexual assault and the possibility of the Weinstein Co. having a culture of looking the other way and possibly helping to arrange encounters, sickened us.
How do we prevent this from happening again? How do we prepare our daughters to handle that moment when someone wants to use their position of power over them? How do we prepare our sons to not be a Harvey Weinstein when they grow up? How to we prepare both our sons and daughters to stand up to this behavior even if it’s directed toward someone else but witnessed by them?
“For a long time we have siloed the conversation to be relevant to girls,” says Alexis Jones, founder of the empowerment group I Am That Girl, as well as ProtectHer, which offers sexual assault education in high school and college sports locker rooms, as well as in corporate settings. “This isn’t a girls’ issue; this isn’t a women’s issue, this is a human issue. We need to better educate young humans.”
She tells the boys in the locker rooms she goes into: “We are not criminalizing men,” Jones says. “We actually believe you guys are the cure.”
She gives them guidance on what to say in the moment that they see sexual harassment happening. “When they see this, what real manhood means is you step up in the moment.”
Jones says we need to armor both boys and girls with the language to use when something happens, whether it’s about gender, gender preference, skin color, religion or something else that makes them different.
She likes the phrase: “We don’t do that.” When someone is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, when they say something inappropriate whether it’s directed to you or you witness it: “We don’t do that.”
“You’re better than that” also works. She’s used that herself when a co-worker made an inappropriate joke. It caused him to pause, then apologize.
Jones experienced a lot of inappropriate advances and jokes in her career in sports journalism and later entertainment. She remembers telling an A-list star on the red carpet who said something inappropriate, “Do you know who I am?” It showed her strength, it had him guessing if she was famous or related to someone famous. It brought the power back to her.
Barri Rosenbluth, the senior director of the Expect Respect program at SAFE (Stopping Abuse For Everyone), tells us that one of the most important things we can do is model at home respecting their boundaries. “They should already have an expectation that no one has a right to mistreat them physically or sexually,” she says.
If your child is about to enter the workforce or already in the workforce, it’s time to talk about their rights in the workplace. Rosenbluth tells us to remind kids that just like in school, it’s illegal. It’s also not uncommon. If it happens to them, they need to know they are not the only ones.
Parents should talk to kids about what sexual harassment looks like, feels like. Explain the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. Flirting, Rosenbluth says, is mutual and it builds the relationship. Sexual harassment is not mutual, it doesn’t build the relationship. It makes you feel uncomfortable, scared or intimidated.
Also explain to your children that sexual harassment doesn’t have to come from a manager or supervisor. It can come from a co-worker, and it doesn’t have to be physical. It can be personal stories that are too personal, it could be pornography, making comments about how you look or dress, as well as any kind of request of a sexual act that you’re not comfortable with.
If at anytime they are afraid for their safety, they should protect themselves and call 911, or if it’s not an immediate threat, they should avoid being alone with that person.
Parents might think that this is a hard conversation to have with their kids who are about to enter the workforce, but it’s probably not new to them, Rosenbluth says. They have probably seen it at school, too.
Rosenbluth encourages parents to coach their kids on how to get their employer’s policies on sexual harassment. If they have to, parents can even ask for it themselves. Make sure kids know what to do and where to go if they witness it or experience it. Ask your child’s employer what kind of training employees are receiving on this.
If they do experience it, they should tell the person to stop. If they can’t, they should go to a supervisor or the supervisor’s boss to tell them what is happening.
They should document it. Keep texts, emails, voice mails. Write down what happened and when it happened. Ask anyone who witnessed it to document it as well. That becomes useful if it doesn’t stop and they need to make a formal complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They can do so online at eeoc.gov. The commission also has a guide for teen workers that can be helpful. Find it at eeoc.gov/youth.