When girls do not feel safe at school the cost is high. In the past, high school completion policies placed all of the responsibility on students and parents instead of addressing school pushout. Last year NWLC took a different approach: we set out to talk to girls and get a better understanding of the many ways girls are pushed out of school. The result was the Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout campaign.
Our Let Her Learn reports highlight the many ways that girls are pushed out of school, including through exclusionary discipline and the failure to address sexual harassment and violence. Too often these two things are related –just last month, a Florida girl was suspended for five days after reporting a sexual assault. Unfortunately, that girl is not alone. Last year we surveyed over 1,000 14-18 year old girls and asked what they did in response to being harassed. Here is what one girl told us:
“I stayed quiet. I don’t trust the office to treat me right if I did say something back. I would probably end up in trouble.”
Girls should feel the safest in school; instead they are often forced into silence. Being pushed out of school exacerbates the initial trauma of sexual harassment and violence, and the trauma is long lasting. When girls do seek the help of adults who are tasked with keeping them safe, they should not be pushed out of school for reporting an issue. But these things happen too often and can lead to girls withdrawing socially and academically. When we do not make schools safe for girls, they don’t graduate. And graduating from high school can make all of the difference in a woman’s life. Finishing high school increases the likelihood that women and their families are economically secure: Women who don’t graduate from high school have difficulty securing employment, and when they do have jobs, they have lower earnings. In fact, girls who do not graduate stand to lose $320,000 over a 40-year career. Women who do not graduate from high school are more likely to be unmarried parents. Additionally, high school graduation decreases the likelihood that women will live in poverty and be in poor health.
Over the last few months the country has been captivated by the brave women who have said #MeToo. Some of you may have noticed that #MeTooK12 is also a hashtag, though it shouldn’t be. Students shouldn’t be victims of sexual harassment and violence. We have to do a better job of centering girls in the fight to end sexual violence. We must do real work to keep girls safe and in school. Yet, Betsy DeVos and the Department of education made it more confusing for schools to address sexual assault in schools when they rescinded Title IX Guidance.
We must also give girls a voice instead of punishing them and forcing them to be silent. Girls’ futures depend on it. Our future depends on it.