Overview and Core Elements for Sexual Harassment Laws in the Educational Setting

Legislation related to sexual harassment in education is critical to ensuring women’s and girl children’s right to education in an environment free from discrimination and violence. Sexual harassment in schools and other educational settings is a prevalent problem around the world. A 2001 report by Human Rights Watch documented extensive harassment and violence perpetrated by teachers and male students against girls in South African schools. In Malawi, 50% of surveyed school girls reported experiencing sexual harassment. A study of school girls in one south Indian state also documented girls’ vulnerability to harassment. A recent Czech study suggests that more than 75% of Czech university students had been harassed at some point during their schooling. The American Association of University Women reports that 81% of students in the U.S. experience some form of sexual harassment during their schooling. This study further states that 40% of surveyed students reported that teachers and other staff sexually harass students in their school. (See: Human Rights Watch, Scared at School, 2001; UNiTE Fact Sheet - How prevalent is violence against women? (Feb. 2008); Fiona Leach & Shashikala Sitaram, Sexual harassment and abuse of adolescent school girls in South India, 2 Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 257 (2007); Study finds high levels of sex harassment at Czech Universities, Jan. 15, 2010; AAUW, Harassment-Free Hallways: How to Stop Sexual Harassment in School, 2004)

Like workplace sexual harassment, a multi-level approach is required to address harassment in educational settings. But because sexual harassment in schools negatively affects children, often leading to higher dropout rates among schoolgirls, legislation and policy must be very aggressive. In addition, national legislation and local policy must address the fact that students may also be perpetrators of sexual harassment in the educational setting. This requires special consideration in the drafting of law and policy.


Core Elements for Sexual Harassment Laws in the Educational Setting

As with sexual harassment in other settings, many countries deal with sexual harassment in educational settings through a variety of legal regimes, including criminal law, anti-discrimination legislation, and education laws, as well as local policies and disciplinary codes. Laws should:

  • Prohibit harassment by teachers, staff, and fellow students, keeping in mind the age of alleged student perpetrators;
  • Prohibit harassment of admitted students as well as those students seeking admission to educational institutions;
  • Reflect a zero-tolerance policy for sexual relationships between teachers and students;
  • Make schools financially liable for harassment that occurs on their premises or during school-related activities;
  • Require that all educational institutions, both public and private, have sexual harassment prevention policies;
  • Require that sexual harassment policy information be made available to students, parents, and staff in an accessible way (ie. training, posting policies in easily visible locations, translating policies into other languages).