about Respect Rx

RESPECT co-author, Courtney Macavinta, blogs for girls and women about how to build your self-respect and spread respect for all! At The Respect Institute she teaches people of all ages how to integrate The Respect Basics into their lives, work and advocacy. More about About Courtney

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Bullying + Sexual Harassment

Bullying + Sexual Harassment

Bullycide Prevention: 3 Steps for Parents

"Bullycides" Prevention: 3 Ways Parents Can Spread Respect from Respect Rx on Vimeo.

The wave of shocking suicides by young adults, teens and tweens, who were allegedly being bullied and sexual harassed, have many parents, schools and communities reeling about how to stop the tide.

When a rash of troubling behavior—and tragic outcomes—like this hits, it's natural for parents, role models and youth alike to feel outraged or even powerless.

Yet the search for solutions can't be boiled down to passing new legislation or blaming everything from schools to technology. A radical shift in cultural norms needs to happen for long-term change to take hold here. Otherwise, we will forever be stuck with many disrespectful norms instead—from intolerance to bullying, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, violence, cliques (among teens and adults), the "-isms," homophobia and hating ourselves or others.

We all pay the price for not practicing a new normal: respect for all.

We can choose to change
I thought I wanted to make respect the new status quo before. As a new mom, now I’m beyond impatient. More than 15 of my friends and acquaintances had babies this year. My 8-month-old sweet boy was born on Valentines Day. I won’t "accept" these disrespectful norms for these babies. I won’t forget the young ones who took their lives after being pushed too far.

All of us deserve better. We all deserve to learn *how* to be compassionate with ourselves and others. To live as equals. To be safe. To be ourselves and have our rights protected by one another. To be respected and pass it on.

If this is too lofty of a goal for you right now, I want you to think bigger.

I had the honor last weekend to meet two peace and nonviolence activists who had to think bigger to change our world. And they’re still doing it.

Father John Dear was nominated by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the Nobel Peace Prize. Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette co-founded the groundbreaking Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and worked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the Carry the Vision conference in my community, Dr. Lafayette told the youth and adults there: “Fear can cause you to disrespect yourself.” Yet we have a choice both leaders reminded us. The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence. It’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

It’s heart-wrenching to think about the young people who chose this year alone to no longer exist amid violence. Phoebe Prince, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, and now Tyler Clementi. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 17. So there are likely others in which no one made the connection between being harassed, bullied or persecuted and their suicides. And let’s not forget the alleged "bullies" in all these cases (whether identified or not) represent a loss too. Lost self-respect and lost potential.

3 steps for parents and role models
Here's how to stay hopeful. There is a unifying social change goal we can call get behind. Even if disrespect has dragged us down or led us astray, I believe we all want respect for ourselves and others. And so we must all take steps to make this our default setting.

Parents and youth advocates: let’s start with ourselves by rallying for respect and practicing three key Respect Basics in our homes and communities.

We all need to set boundaries and speak up to end disrespect. Go for zero tolerance and no bystanding. From the Internet to the dinner table, make your boundaries clear for respectful language and behavior under your roof. And think of a creative consequence when the line is crossed, like having your child volunteer with an organization that is fighting for equality or against hate crimes.

Look at your boundaries too. If this means you stop cussing, gossiping or putting down others in front of your kids—good start. If it means you actively say “no” when you see people being bullied or discriminated against—yes! Coach your kids or students how to safely and assertively set boundaries if they are being hurt or see someone else getting hurt.

At the heart of these so-called bullycides is a major muscle that is underdeveloped: compassion. We need to develop compassionate habits in our hearts and homes. One way to start is by learning the Respect Levels of Listening. The first one is: It’s about ME. Guess what, we get to listen to our guts and set boundaries/be kind where needed. The second level is: It’s about UnderStanding (or "us"). The key here is getting curious about others who are different from us or who have different perspectives. Or just really listening (as if you could repeat what’s said word for word) when someone is sharing about themselves.

compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

How to have compassion for ourselves is another skill we need to master. It's not easy, I know. I also can't know what was in Tyler Clementi’s heart when he took that leap. But somewhere in there, I’m guessing, was a sense of being unloved or unaccepted or unworthy. To have compassion for ourselves enables us to have compassion for others (and it works well the other way around too). Compassion can prompt us to take the next step when we are devastated by disrespect or we see someone else being harmed: Get Help.

At a minimum, we can show our kids and the youth we support ways to be resourceful. They need to learn the value of getting help and what it looks like. For example, getting help can be talking to a trusted adult, calling an anonymous helpline, finding a support group, or if you need to, calling the cops! Ask your kids of all ages tonight: If you were being hurt, what are some ways you’d get help? And then brainstorm to make their list nice and long. You might not be on it. Don’t take it personal. The goal is for them to have many, many lifelines in their pocket.

If one of the Rutgers students accused of posting online video of Tyler had been operating from compassion, had set a boundary "no, stop, this isn't right," and had gotten help intervening from the dorm RA (for example), maybe we'd have a different outcome here.

Getting help needs to be the new normal vs. a risky move. And when our youth ask for help, we need to throw them a rope instantly and not let go. The worst thing that can happen when you ask for help (and I’ve been there) is to be left hanging. Part of this “getting help” skill we need to model is the resolve to never stop trying to keep get help when you need it. Our kids need to get the message that until they find a refuge and chance to recover, they are well worth the effort to keep trying.

And we need to create more refuges from disrespect. Is your home and heart one? If not, you now know right where to begin.

Advocates, Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, Parents

Girls and Sexual Harassment

Hot Topic

A new UC Santa Cruz study found that 90% of girls—that's 9 out of 10—report experiencing sexual harassment at least once.

After polling 600 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from California and Georgia, the study found that sexual harassment was going down in the form of:

**receiving inappropriate and unwanted romantic attention, hearing demeaning gender-related comments
**being teased about appearance
**receiving unwanted physical contact
**being teased, bullied, or threatened with harm by a male

From what I'm told by the teen girls I meet all over the country, this rings all too true. And sadly, the numbers haven't improved from decade-old studies. That said, the total number of instances-per-girl was down according this study. What isn't clear to me is if the researchers looked at girl-on-girl or girl-on-boy harassment—girls, parents and teachers tell me this behavior is on the rise, too. And let's not neglect the fact that the sexualization of girls (and the rest of us) along with girl-bashing is a centerpiece of tons of media and so-called entertainment.

More from the study and tips for girls, parents and girl advocates:

"Sexism remains pervasive in the lives of adolescent girls," said Professor Campbell Leaper, who led the study. "Most girls have experienced all three types of sexism--sexual harassment, sexist comments about their academic abilities, and sexist comments about their athletic abilities."

The study also found that:
• 76 percent of girls said they had received discouraging comments about their abilities in sports.
• 52 percent said they'd received discouraging comments related to their abilities in science, math, or computers--three areas Leaper focused on because of the persistent gender gap in academics.

Leaper's study tries to identify the factors that predict whether girls will recognize their experiences as sexism. Recognizing when sexism occurs is a crucial first step toward overcoming discrimination, she says. “Otherwise, it is more likely that individuals attribute failure to their lack of ability rather than to the obstacles in their environment," adds Leaper.

I agree. Knowing how to call out sexism, objectification and harassment is the first step toward girls breaking through many unhealthy "girl culture" norms that harm girls and hold them back.

Here is a major point from the study:

Girls who had learned about feminism through the media or from people in their lives, including mothers and teachers, were more likely to recognize it than girls who had never heard about feminism. Also, girls who felt pressure from parents to conform to gender stereotypes perceived more sexism than other girls.

We can make an impact. Here are some tips for girls, parents and girl advocates:

Know your rights: We were inspired to write RESPECT in large part because of all the disrespectful stories were were hearing from girls about harassment and bullying. RESPECT Chapters 11 and 12 cover girls' rights, define harassment and inspire girls to create change.

Set boundaries: From gossip to back-stabbing to nasty sexual insults, we all need to work on our boundaries. Here's how to speak up, get help and report harassment. And here are more tips on dealing with "slut" rumors.

Flirting or Hurting? Not sure? Take the quiz to find out.

Spread respect. How does sexism, harassment or girl vs. girl gossip make you feel? Share your experiences with each other. Talk about how these forms of violence—and that's what they are—hurt girls, guys, parents and girl advocates alike. In what ways does this behavior hurt the perpetrators too? How can we make a change in our homes, schools and community? How do our media role models and favorite shows deal with harassment or perpetrate it? And how can we carry ourselves with more respect and respect for others to challenge this unhealthy norm? List 10 things you can do and do them!

Check out some of the amazing projects from Girls For A Change Girl Action Teams for more inspiration:

* The girls of Team 12 are taking a stand against sexual harassment in their community. They have produced a video that depicts several characters experiencing sexual harassment. They believe that by showing what people go through when they are sexually harassed, it will challenge people to rethink how they treat each other. The team also received Yahoo!’s “Purple Act of Kindness” award and were given video and editing equipment to complete their project. The team took a field trip to Yahoo! where a team of professionals taught them video production techniques. The final video will be shown at various schools around EPA and may be featured on Yahoo for Good’s website.

* The girls of Team 29 are also tired of seeing sexual harassment in their communities. They believe that sexual harassment can be reduced by educating people in their community of its detrimental effects. By performing a play and creating a slide show, they illustrated to their peers and community members that the issue affects everyone. They hope that doing this puts them one step closer to eliminating sexual harassment in their community.

* Girl Action Team 5 is fired up about starting a campaign that takes a stand against violence in their community. The team will teach girls about self-awareness and self-esteem--with the desired effect that girls stop being part of creating violence through gossiping and bullying and also stand up against violence in all forms. The team created and presented an original educational campaign that engages 7th and 8th grade girls. The curriculum includes discussions and activities on inner beauty, self-confidence, girl power and supporting beauty in others. They will tie in discussions on beauty and self-esteem and how these relate to violence in the community.

* The girls of Team 24 feel that expressing their personal experiences with sexual harassment will build awareness about the issue. They developed an article to be posted in the opinion section of local Milpitas newspapers describing personal experiences with sexual harassment at school. Their goal is to make people aware that this goes on in a “safe” town like Milpitas and happens to girls as young as 11-13. They are building a community of support which they will use in developing an anti-sexual harassment campaign next year.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment

Report It

Hot Topic

Bullying, the rumor mill and sexual harassment do rule a lot of schools. The latest study by Indiana University surveyed more than 80,000 students throughout the country, and 45 percent of students said they feel unsafe at school.

And 8 out of 10 students say they have experience some form of sexual harassment at school, according to a 2002 report by the American Academy of University Women. Girls are harassed more often than boys with 83 percent saying they have endured sexual comments—including homophobic remarks—teasing, touching or rumors.

Being scared or bullied stands in the way of your education and can lead to depression and low self-worth. Students who experience sexual harassment are more likely to avoid school, talk less during class, and find it hard to pay attention. Here are steps you can take if bullying or harassment has gotten out of control and is making you feel sad, unsafe, or too distracted to get the most out of your education:

1. Know your rights
There are federal and state laws that say it's not cool for you to be harassed, bullied or discriminated against at school:

• Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal money, including schools.

• Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects all students from unlawful sexual harassment at school and during school-sponsored activities, says girls must have the same opportunities as boys, and requires equal support for girls’ sports.

• The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, and require that they receive a quality education and have access to school buildings.

• Sexual and gender identity laws. Less than ten states have laws to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students from harassment or discrimination in public schools. But arguably, Title IX, hate crime laws and the U.S. Constitution should project you anyway. To learn more, check out the Safe Schools Coalition.

2. Speak up
When people are harassing or bullying you, they usually expect you to keep your mouth shut. When harassers say something lewd or rude, you could ignore them so you’re not giving them the reaction they want (you still can report the harassment, even if it occurred only once). Or you could set a boundary by speaking up.

First, check your gut to decide if it’s safe to stand up to the harasser(s). Make sure you feel secure before you say anything and remember that the goal is to de-escalate a situation, instead of making it worse. Try setting a boundary, like: “I’d like you to stop making fun of me. It hurts my feelings. I’m not sure why you’re doing it—but it’s not cool and it has to stop.” If you’ve already asked her to stop and she continues, give her a warning like, “I’ve already asked you to stop. I’ll have to report you if this happens again.”

If you've got problems with the rumor mill, try this.

3. Get help
If setting a boundary doesn't work, stay strong and report it. Remember, if you don’t stand up to harassment, then you (and other kids) are being hurt not only by the harasser but also by the injustice of the situation.

Before you file a complaint, write down the “four Ws” of the incident(s): who, where, when and what. Even if you’re scared, telling someone what happened is the right thing to do. Create a support network of adults or family members who can help protect you. Tell them what’s going on and how it’s affecting you. Ask for help in filing a complaint with your school. Get to know your school’s sexual harassment policy and complaint process by asking the main office for a copy of the policy.

When a complaint is filed, your school should immediately take steps to stop the harassment and prevent it from happening again (even if you go to a religious or private school with no policy, you still have a right to feel safe). If you don’t want your name to be used, find out if your complaint can be kept confidential before you give any details.
Know what’s being done.

4. Don't give up
If speaking up and filing a complaint with various school officials hasn’t helped, don’t give up. Instead, call in the government. You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces certain laws at your school. Also, contact the National Women’s Law Center for advice about how you can take action.

More Info >
Indiana University study
Hostile Hallways (AAUW report)
RESPECT Chapters 11 and 12

Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, School

Slut Rumors


A girl at school is telling everyone that I'm a slut because I'm going out with her ex-boyfriend. It feels like everyone is turning against me.

Rx: First, let's break down the anatomy of a "slut" rumor, which we all know is one of the top weapons girls (and guys) use to take someone down. Usually when a girl is called a slut or "ho," it’s, uh, not meant as a compliment. And the rumors (like that a girl has given the whole football sexual favors, has diseases or does threesomes) can be damaging beyond the classroom.

So is spreading slut rumors just girls being girls? No way. It's disrespect taking over when our self-respect has gone into hiding (we've all been there!). When a girl calls another girl a slut, numerous fear factors could be at work, like:

Taboo sexuality. A girl’s sexuality has long been a hush-hush topic. Some have been brought up to think that a girl should stay pure or hold out until marriage, and they label girls sluts as punishment for not being virgins or for simply being viewed as desirable. Society also seems to get uncomfortable with the fact that females do have desire. And that’s why attacking a girl by calling her a slut can be considered such a slam. Whether girls are sexually active or not, if someone thinks sexuality/sexual thoughts are bad then calling someone a slut is the same as saying you're WAY bad, wrong, dirty or worthless. See how that works?

Insecurity and competition. Some girls are afraid that sexy or pretty girls will take all the guys and so they make the first defensive move by tarnishing the girls' reputations. Some are afraid their boyfriends will dump them for a so-called slut because it's a common belief that all that boys want is sex and more sex. It's not always true. But that's what movies, videos and TV shows (and the actions of some of the boys we know) tend to make us believe. If a girl doesn't want to "give it up" but another girl does so freely, then sometimes the logic follows that the boyfriend will dump the virgin for the sexually experienced girl. Then jealousy takes over and rumors fly.

There are also the girls who call girls sluts for revenge for one thing or another, throwing the name around for reasons that have nothing to do with sex at all. A girl might be different from the in-crowd or dress in a revealing fashion or in a way that calls attention to her. Or maybe a girl’s body filled in when all of her female classmates were still shopping in the little girl’s section. She might be confident in herself and her talents, which girls with low self-respect find intimidating and so they label her a slut. Girls admit that they spread nasty rumors when they are feeling insecure and competitive.

Judgment. So you know for a fact—you have witnesses and sworn testimony—that a girl in your history class has slept with five guys in five days. That makes her a card-carrying slut in your book. Before you start gossiping or hurling insults, stop and ask yourself: If it were true, why would she do that anyway?

Although a girl's sexuality is her business, numerous studies show that teen girls who have frequent sexual encounters that lack trust and real intimacy are more likely to have been sexually abused as children, have low self-worth and are in more danger of getting STDs or becoming pregnant. So before you get all superior, remember that a girl could be labeled a slut because she’s misunderstood or being unfairly judged. Or she could be hurting or confused so don't kick her when she's down. (Remember, she's your sistah by another motha!)

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, here's what you can do to burn down the rumor mill:

Build your self-respect. When you care about yourself, have goals, do stuff you love, don't talk down to yourself, have supportive friends, and know you're super special *just* because you are here on planet Earth—you are stronger in the face of bad situations. You are less likely to live up to a nasty rumor, take it to heart, or to take bad treatment without fighting for your rights. And you're really less likely to need to hurt other girls to make yourself feel better.

Is your self-respect running low? Make a list of all the amazing things you want to do with your life and time. Now get started! Or answer this question: I respect myself because: (list 10 reasons). RESPECT also offers tons of ways you can invest in you. Keep thinking of your self-respect like a bank account. If you don't make deposits then you'll be too broke to pay your respects to yourself and others.

Set those boundaries. If you're sick of being the star of the "rumor of the week," go to the source if you feel comfortable. Tell the person how the rumor is hurting you, like: "We used to be friends, and it hurts my feelings that you're saying stuff behind my back. I want you to stop, and for us to work things out." And keep believing in yourself and hanging out with people who know the real you and who will set the record straight when the rumor comes their way.

Get help. If the rumors don't stop and you're afraid to go to school, talk to your parents or another trusted adult (like a school or helpline counselor at 1-800-839-4ERA) about your options. If the situation is totally out of hand, do you want to report it? (Trust your gut, but please do report it!) Do you need support in making new friends? Are you being physically threatened and need protection right away? Do you want to switch schools? If you're in danger or are shutting down, again, trust your gut and reach out for help.

Report it. If your school receives federal funds it has to have an anti-harassment policy (and sexual rumors are a form of harassment). If the person doesn't stop or is still harassing others, get ready to report it. Sexual harassment won't stop unless we all take a stand against it. Take these steps to report it.

Spread respect. Have you ever spread a rumor or watched girls fight at school? How about spreading some respect instead. Whenever you don't like what's going down in your world—change it and change yourself for the better!
• When you gotta problem with someone, be real and tell her how you feel. Give your friends a chance to improve before you cut them off and out of your group.
• Don't call others names like "slut," "ho," "bitch" or anything degrading—it sends the message to the world that it's OK to disrespect girls and it's not.
• Get together with other kids and make your school's anti-harassment policy known. Set the tone for how you want your school (world) to be by holding a Respect Day. This might sound cheesy, but you can fight for equal rights by raising awareness. Read more about the civil rights movement if you're not yet convinced:).
• If your school doesn't have a harassment policy, lead the charge to create one just like these teens.
• Start, join or promote after-school programs that give you and your friends skills and boost your self-respect. Ask for more mentoring programs. Invite cool speakers to your school. In other words, help build everyone's self-respect (especially the "mean" girls!).

And the last step to help end the rumor mill (and all the drama that comes with it) practice using the F-word…(it's not what you think!).

More Info >
RESPECT Chapters 11 and 12

RESPECT co-author Andrea Vander Pluym contributed to this post.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, Quiz, School

Quiz: Flirting or Hurting?

Take a look at the following scenarios. Do they sound like unwanted sexual harassment or harmless flirting? Keep score in your journal and then click the the next page for the answers.

1. During lunch, your crush tells you he likes your outfit.
Harassment or Flirting?

2. A guy tells his friends he’s "gotten some" from you and now they ask for "some of that" when you walk by them, which totally embarrasses you.
Harassment or Flirting?

3. You wear your favorite shirt, which happens to be low-cut, to turn heads at school.
Harassment or Flirting?

4. A teacher who you really admire—and who you might even have a crush on—tells you that he "likes" you too.
Harassment or Flirting?

5. You always try to hug a boy you like at school or send him sexually suggestive notes even though he’s told you he’s not interested.
Harassment or Flirting?

Nos. 1 and 3: Flirting. When you want sexual or romantic attention from peers, it’s not harassment. Still, if you’re trying to get too much sexual attention at school, think about whether school is the time and the place—and if you're interrupting others' learning experiences. To build your self-respect, always check yourself when it comes to needing a lot of outside attention to feel validated. You want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of the educational opportunities at school to make yourself a strong, smart girl who's a leader. You’re not there just to study up on dating and mating, right?

Nos. 2, 4 and 5: Harassment. If sexual attention, such as comments from other students, makes you uncomfortable or violates school policiy, it’s harassment. If a teacher makes a pass at you or flirts with you—even if you like how it feels—it’s harassment. Sometimes girls admit that when they’re at school, overt sexual attention or even rude comments from other students or adults feels good. Girls say it makes them feel pretty, desirable or noticed. That might be true, but this is the unhealthy way to get validation (a.k.a. confirmation that you're a valuable person). You should be acknowledged in a courteous and respectful way—not through degrading harassment, inappropriate suggestions, cat calls or "hoochie hollas."

If you're being harassed at school, take action.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Help!

Help! Bullying + Sexual Harassment


The Empower Program
Works with teens to end the culture of violence and cruelty that includes bullying, rumors, fights, cliques, and more.

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA)
800-839-4ERA (800-839-4372)
The ERA protects equal rights and economic opportunities for women and girls through litigation and advocacy. Free, 24/7 legal advice and counseling about sexual harassment and discrimination at school or work.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Works to ensure safe schools for all students by taking action against anti-LGBT bullying. Get involved by telling your story or joining a campaign.

National Women's Law Center
Get advice on how to advocate for a sexual harassment policy at your school and fight for other educational rights.

U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
800-USA-LEARN (800-872-5327)
Learn your education rights and how to file a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Youth at Work
Learn your rights at work and how to file a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint.

Odd Girl Speaks Out
by Rachel Simmons
Poems, songs, confessions, and essays from girls about in-fighting among girls and how to stop it.

Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying
by Cheryl Dellasega and Charisse Nixon
A good read for parents and teachers. You’ll learn to give girls the courage to be kind, teach communication and conflict resolution skills, be a positive role model, provide doses of “emotion lotion” to soothe and support, offer a tool kit of options, and more. Includes compelling true stories from mothers and girls, plus a chapter for dads.

Queen Bees and Wannabes
by Rosalind Wiseman
This book for parents takes you inside the secret world of girls’ friendships, translating and decoding them, so you can better understand and help your daughters navigate through their teen years.

Look It Up: Web Search Terms
"sexual harassment" + "at school"
"sexual harassment" + "at work" + teens

llustration by Catherine LePage © Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 2005