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Teen Talk: Sexual harassment training the key for everyone

Recently, #97percent and subsequently #notallmen were trending on TikTok, a popular video-sharing social media platform, in response to Sarah Everard being abducted and killed by a British police officer while walking home in London.

To address rousing concern over women’s safety, the police issued a statement directing women to not go out past dark. In opposition to this traditional advice, both national and international voices asked why females were being penalized for male sexual harassment and assault.

Jenny Jones, a member of the British Parliament, proposed legislation that would impose a male curfew around the same time that a United Nations study of women in the United Kingdom suggesting that 97% of women have faced sexual harassment gained traction on TikTok.

Many retaliated with the deduction that “not all men” are perpetrators of unwanted sexual advances, which loses sight of the true issue at hand: nine in 10 rape victims in the United States are women, and perpetrators of sexual violence against all genders are mostly men.

I can’t count the number of times my parents have lectured me on how to prevent myself from potentially dangerous situations, yet I don’t think my brother has ever been subject to those same conversations. No parent ever wants to assume that they have raised a child who would experience or perpetuate sexual harassment, but educating their sons and daughters on the importance of respect and boundaries in all romantic capacities is paramount.

Regardless of your teen’s gender identity, sexual orientation, age, friend group, religion, race, and whatever other surface-level attributes, informing them of what sexual harassment is and how pejorative it can be to themselves and others is an indispensable conversation, but one that only half of all families are having.

I have always been told that sexual harassment is something I will face. It always was presented as an inevitable fact of life.

When my parents got me my first house key in elementary school, a whistle I could use “if anyone started following me” was attached. When I started running cross country in middle school, my parents gave me a can of pink, glittery pepper spray to carry whenever I ran alone.

My friends and I have been advised throughout high school on how to best avoid unwanted situations: cover your cup at parties, travel to the bathroom in a group, hold your keys between your fingers when walking to your car alone, always let someone know where you are, and never meet anyone new in private.

To best address the issues of sexual harassment and assult for both female and male victims, we need to ensure our solutions involve both parties. When two individuals of opposite genders are walking towards each other at night and no one else is around, the woman thinks “Am I safe?” What does the man think, if anything? Respect and understanding are the cornerstones of progress in this complex issue, and if we want to mitigate the severity of this epidemic, we need to be having these difficult conversations.

Maria Proulx of Ledyard is a junior at Saint Bernard School.

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