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Attitudes about sexual harassment start young

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When it comes to how we think and feel about romantic relationships - as well as gender, sexual harassment and misogyny - we are heavily influenced by what we learn in our youth. And many of these beliefs go hand-in-hand.

A study performed by the Making Caring Common Project by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that many young people have been directly affected by sexual harassment.

More than 3,000 young adults were surveyed. Here are the percentages of female survey respondents who reported:

  • Having a stranger tell them they're "hot": 62 percent
  • Being catcalled: 55 percent
  • Having a stranger say something sexual to them: 52 percent
  • Being insulted with sexualized words by a man: 47 percent
  • Being insulted with sexualized words by a woman: 42 percent
  • Being touched by a stranger without permission: 41 percent

The survey also found that respondents often do not know how to respond to sexual harassment. Many do not intervene because they think it will not help the situation. Others fear negative repercussions from intervening.

Could it be that young people do not know how to respond to sexual harassment because they were never taught how to? Interestingly, 76 percent of respondents had never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.

Respondents also expressed the desire for more intervention from parents in building positive romantic relationships. More than 70 percent of respondents said that they wished they had received more information from their parents about relationships - such as how to start a relationship, how to have a mature relationship, how to deal with a breakup, etc.

What can parents do?

One of the most effective things parents can do to help their kids form healthy and positive relationships is to have meaningful conversations about what those relationships look like.

As the study points out, children want to have those conversations with their parents, but parents do not always initiate them. Parents should feel confident discussing positive relationship building - and well as why it is important to treat those of different genders with respect and dignity.

Parents have more power than they often realize when it comes to influencing their children. This is especially important when it comes to attitudes and beliefs about misogyny and sexual harassment. Young adults have been exposed to misogynistic behaviors and sexual harassment - yet most have not engaged in meaningful conversations with their parents about these topics.

We all play a part in combating sexual harassment and misogynistic behaviors and beliefs - at home, at school, and at work.

Parents who are looking for more information or talking points can find ideas in Appendix B of the study.

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