By: Joan LeMole, Development Director
School is much more than a place for academic learning. It’s a safe, secure place where students can feel valued, respected and nurtured. It provides a sense of belonging and community. Students in this type of classroom environment are more motivated and freer to explore and take on more challenges. They have higher overall learning outcomes and better attendance and graduation rates. School is one of the first places where relationships based in safety and respect are formed and modeled.
Safe and respectful relationships promote growth, decrease stress and add more meaning to life. For students who come from backgrounds that include adverse experiences like homelessness, abuse and neglect, stable classrooms where everyone is accepted play an even more powerful and important role—they may be the student’s only safe place. Bullying and other forms of oppression, hostility and exclusion pose a threat to all students and to the school as a holding environment, a space safe enough to try out new ideas and take risks.
Sexual harassment in schools, and the difficulties that can result, are neither new nor constrained to a particular geographic location. Research is clear that teens in relationships where they are controlled are at higher risk for physical and mental health concerns. Girls who experience sexual harassment report more signs of anxiety and depression. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students are especially at risk for sexual harassment. It is more likely that this group will develop health and educational concerns when compared with their heterosexual cisgender peers.
Teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, and other school staff throughout Maine work daily to ensure that schools are places where students can engage, achieve and develop self-confidence. They know that the learning environment must be kept as clear as possible from other concerns so that quality learning can occur.
Yet sexual harassment in schools remains a national concern. According to the American Association of University Women, nearly half of public-school students in grades 7-12 experience sexual harassment. In the 2017/18 school year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported 7,000 cases of sexual assault in K-12 public schools. Many incidents go unreported.
Since 2018, there have been several allegations of sexual harassment in Maine schools resulting in investigations, student walkouts, and the formation of student groups focused on raising awareness about dating violence, sexual harassment and assault, and bystander interventions. Schools work diligently to respond, yet students don’t always feel heard. Proven, effective school interventions are few.
Advocates at New Hope Midcoast regularly see the effects of teen dating violence and domestic abuse. We know that schools want to embrace a safe learning culture where knowledge is prioritized and shared. To help address this issue and to provide access to proven methods for addressing sexual harassment in schools, New Hope Midcoast, in collaboration with Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM), is bringing Dr. Nan Stein to Rockland and Boothbay for two speaking engagements. Stein is the first in New Hope’s speaker series, an annual event with a four-fold mission of fostering community, sharing information, connecting and building awareness regarding timely concerns.
Dr. Stein has worked with schools to conduct research on sexual harassment/gender violence and teen dating violence for more than 40 years. A former social studies teacher, drug and alcohol counselor, and gender equity specialist with the Massachusetts Department of Education, Stein co-led the development of Shifting Boundaries, a school-based dating violence intervention program funded by the US Department of Justice and identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of only three effective interventions for curbing sexual violence. Shifting Boundaries includes proven strategies for supporting young people in the classroom and throughout the school building.
New Hope Midcoast and SASSMM invite educators, guidance counselors, school administrators, health and mental healthcare providers, parents, community members and agencies that work with youth to attend Dr. Stein’s presentation, Sexual Harassment and Dating Violence: A Talk for School Personnel, Parents, Students and Other Professionals Serving Youth. Dr. Stein will deliver her talk from 4-5:30 on Wednesday, September 27 at the Midcoast School of Technology in Rockland and on Thursday, September 28 at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Registration is through September 26 at $10 per person and is available under News & Events at newhopemidcoast.org, by emailing , or by calling (207) 691.5969.