Ever since the highly publicized and controversial Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas flap, sexual harassment and its existence in the workplace and educational system has received considerable attention.
Yet despite the growing concern, studies show that sexual harassment is still prevalent in high schools.
According to a recent study conducted by Louis Harris and Associates for the American Assn. of University of Women Educational Foundation, 85% of girls in grades eight to 11, and 76% of boys in the same grades reported experiencing unwelcome or unwarranted sexual behavior at least once in their school careers.
Another study, featured in Susan Strauss' 1992 book, "Sexual Harassment and Teens," revealed that 59% of sexual harassment experienced by teen-age females came from fellow students, while 30% was from teachers. The book also reported that 73% of the sexual harassment experiences were remarks, 59% touches, 52% gestures and 7% propositions.
In response to a state law that took effect in 1993, every school district has established a written policy on sexual harassment. The policies generally outline what is considered harassment and set up procedures for students or staff to follow when making complaints. In complying with the law, schools have been distributing copies of the policy and educating teachers and students about sexual harassment.
While some instances of harassment are overt--such as a teacher fondling a student--others can be more subtle.
One Orange County high school student, who asked that her name not be used, recalls such an experience. "Almost every day, one of my male teachers would comment on what I was wearing. That made me feel uncomfortable," she said. "I did not report him to the administration because I was too embarrassed."
The sexual harassment policy at Foothill High School in Santa Ana was adopted in June 1992.
Whether the policy has drifted down to students is a matter of opinion. Even though the policy is published in the student handbook, which every student receives in his registration packet before the beginning of each school year, some students seem unaware of it.
"I have not heard about the policy, much less seen any (of its) effects," Foothill junior Matt Franklin said. "Nobody reads their student handbook, and the teachers don't really discuss it."
One senior added, "Most programs enacted by the school board are enforced halfheartedly and accomplish little more than paperwork. The sexual harassment policy falls in the same sea of laxity that all the others have."
Like policies adopted elsewhere, much of the policy at Foothill defines sexual harassment and the various emotional and psychological effects it can have on an individual.
"(Any) unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment . . . sexual harassment can cause embarrassment, feelings of powerlessness, loss of self-confidence, reduced ability to perform school work . . .
"Sexual harassment . . . is considered to be unethical, unprofessional and illegal behavior. . . . Violation of (this) policy shall constitute generally just and reasonable cause of discipline," the policy states.
The policy also outlines specific actions a student or faculty member should take if they feel they have been sexually harassed, starting with bringing the complaint to the attention of school officials.
The impact of schools' policies on individual behavior may not be known for some time yet, but the mechanism for dealing with harassment is in place.
Meanwhile, some Foothill students believe that sexual harassment on campus is not a prevalent problem.
"I do not think sexual harassment is a major problem at FHS," said 17-year-old Katie Parsons. "The sexual harassment I have felt . . . are casual comments among acquaintances or friends. Things that I would probably never act upon."
Sixteen-year-old Mike Baas agrees. "Sexual harassment a serious problem? No. (This) type of problem does exist, but not on a serious scale."