Tatyana Bellamy-Walker is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. She is a student journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Daily News, New York Amsterdam News and Teen Kids News.NCYL interviewed Tatyana about her work interviewing teens for the piece “Teens Say School Sex Harassment Goes Unpunished”
1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of sexual harassment in school?
I pitched this article to Teen Voices after realizing that school sexual harassment often goes unnoticed by faculty and staff. I worked on the article when I was a high school senior, so it made sense to dive deeper into an issue that I witnessed every day.
2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience?
This piece was hard for me because I had to find a way to encourage students to open up to me about their experiences. I was constantly reworking questions to allow students to identify with the issue of sexual harassment.
If you ask a student, “Have you ever been sexually harassed?” they will say, “No.” However, if you empower the interviewee and do not refer to them as a victim you get a much better response. For example, I would ask girls, “Has someone ever made comments about your body that made you feel uncomfortable?” For the most part, they say yes. Then I asked them, “What do they say,” and that’s when they begin to open up about their experience. I learned it’s important to have a conversation with the interviewee; it gives them time to reflect on their experiences.
3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about sexual harassment in school?
When we think of sexual harassment in school we often think that teachers are responding to these issues and have it all under control. But I found out that there are not many repercussions for students who harass others. Also, there is not much education to encourage the prevention of sexual harassment. Female students bear the brunt of this issue. Some girls that I spoke with said they have low self-esteem and are pretty fearful because they don’t know when harassment might turn into sexual violence.
4) In your work with your peers, what experiences of theirs struck you the most? What surprised you the most?
I interviewed a girl who was being stalked by one of her male peers. The guy wrote her letters and consistently pursued her. She was scared and did not know what he was capable of doing. When I spoke to the student about the guy, she started to slouch in her chair, her voice became softer and she relived the moment. I was surprised that the majority of the girls I spoke to had similar experiences. They all seemed really uncomfortable.
5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce sexual harassment in school for teens? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work?
I think schools can do a better job educating students about sexual harassment and how it manifests itself. Students may not know the difference between friendly teasing, bullying, flirting and harassment. Administrators can to do more to make students feel respected. Teachers can stand up for students who are being harassed.
Blaming girls for wearing short skirts or having a curvy body does not help them with sexual harassment. Instead, this leads them to have a lower self-worth. Ultimately, I found that shaming girls about sexual harassment further stigmatizes the issue. It often pushes them into silence because they feel ashamed about the problem.
6) Having worked on this piece, do you have thoughts or advice for other teens on how to empower or protect themselves against sexual harassment?
I think it is important for teens to respect each other and realize that the words they use can humiliate another person. If you are a teen who has experienced sexual harassment it is best to tell an adult, your parents or an administrator. Also, keep track of where the harassment occurs and what the students are saying. This can better help teachers track and punish students who make inappropriate comments. Sexual harassment is scary and teens need to be more proactive in speaking up about the issue.
You can learn more about how to stay safe in your relationships by visiting the Staying Safe section of our Youth Legal Guide. If you’re ever severely worried about your safety, make sure to tell an adult as soon as possible or call 911.