Home > ‘Storm and stress’ an exploration of sexual harassment amongst adolescents.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland. Walsh, Michelle (2021) ‘Storm and stress’ an exploration of sexual harassment amongst adolescents. Dublin: Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

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Early intervention in children’s lives is the strongest commitment we can make to prevention and protection from sexual violence. Understanding the experience of adolescents is the first step to shaping interventions that work. This report addresses a critical gap in our knowledge regarding adolescent experiences of sexual harassment. 

The societal norms, practices and structures, and chronosystem (the era in which one lives), surround all levels in this framework and have a bi-directional influence on each level of the adolescent’s life, passing down from one generation to the next. They can reinforce negative social norms and practices, within all structures and levels of the system which contributes to adolescent sexual harassment. Adolescent sexual harassment that is normalised within a society and its structures, can lead to the individual becoming desensitised and unable to recognise sexual harassment. Experiences of sexual harassment can contribute to experiences of coercive control, drug and alcohol use, risk taking behaviour, thoughts of suicide and death, shame and self-blame, as well as poor physical and mental health, and poor educational performance, which negatively impact upon the adolescent’s life trajectory. 

RCNI recommendations to address sexual harassment amongst adolescents

1. Centring adolescents in prevention and response: all action and policy should recognise the progressive development and independence of children and adolescents, empower them to take responsibility for their actions and beliefs and support them in understanding the consequences of those attitudes and actions.

2. Education and awareness raising within the community and general public as part of the National Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender Based Violence (DSGBV) of adolescent vulnerability and prevention of sexual harassment, including the impact of drugs, alcohol use, pornography, and online sexual violence.

3. Community organisations’ awareness, response and referral capacity needs to be supported in responding to and preventing adolescent sexual harassment through government resourcing the development of policy, awareness, specialist training, developing the capacity of services, and interagency collaboration and skills sharing with specialist organisations.

4. Education: National policy to address sexual harassment in schools should be developed (Department of Education). The national policy to include:

5. Adequate comprehensive relationships and sexuality education (RSE), to enable adolescents to identify the social norms that support power and gender inequality, thus combatting desensitisation and normalisation of sexual harassment. This should include critical training on the negative impacts of pornography and be tailored to each age group. Those delivering the training should be trained and supported (see NCCA 2019 report).

  • Those delivering the training should receive standardised training and support (see NCCA 2019 report). Consideration should be given to having external facilitators with comprehensive knowledge delivering sensitive sexual material contained within the RSE module.
  • Challenging and exploring social norms and gender inequality within egalitarian interpersonal relationships through school curriculum programmes and school wide culture.
  • Proactively establishing a zero-tolerance to sexual harassment environments and norms in the school community with particular attention paid to addressing intersectional characteristics and vulnerabilities such as sex, gender, sexuality and disability.
  • Reinforcing positive parenting and partnering with parents to prevent sexual harassment.
  • Partnering with specialists in sexual harassment to support the policy.
  • Systems of reporting need to be standardised and formalised and all adolescents should know how to report sexual harassment.
  • Systems of support for those who experience sexual harassment that are evidence led, specialist and adequately funded.
  • Systems of intervention for those adolescents who perpetrate sexual harassment that are evidence led, specialist and adequately funded.
  • Support and protection of staff engaged in sexual harassment education and response through the provision of specialist supervision and counselling
  • Support of staff experiencing sexual harassment though appropriate processes and legal remedies if necessary (see Appendix III for detail).

5. Protection of workers through adequate organisational response, implementation of zero tolerance practices, and support for individual workers in adolescent contexts impacted by sexual harassment to access support, protection and redress as appropriate (see Appendix III).

6. Supporting parenting through education on parenting styles and their effects and the impact of gender inequality alongside access to specialist advice, counselling, interagency support and if needs be, protection (Tusla Supporting Parenting Strategy). Supporting parents to set age-appropriate boundaries for their children in the type of social media and mass media content they are able and allowed to access.

  • Provide digital skills resources and tools aimed at parents to enable them to keep up with technological developments.
  • Ensure legislation and protections are sufficient and appropriate to respond to and protect from online harassment.

7. Supporting Online Safety: Harmful online content - a dedicated Online Safety Commissioner needs to be appointed to set out and regulate the responsibilities of internet services providers in relation to online sexual harassment. An individual complaints mechanism, is needed, to which anyone who is the victim of online harassment could apply for redress in any case in which the response of the relevant internet service provider to a complaint or takedown request has not been satisfactory.

8. Resourcing community specialist responses and providing for clear referral and collaboration pathways for parents, adolescent self-referral, schools and other organisations.

  • Adolescent sexual harassment counselling and support available in schools, in Rape Crisis Centres and other community settings.
  • Adolescent intervention programmes nationwide.

9. In addition to surveying adolescents experiences, within the next five to ten years, the National Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender Based Violence should contain a framework of monitoring, research, evaluation and review of changes that have been made within policy, legislation and practice. This could outline the effectiveness of any changes that have been made, allowing for a re-evaluation of any additional actions that have been implemented or amended.

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