Elevate Difference

Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets

Difficulties concentrating in school, shame, depression, guilt, fear, low self-esteem, poor body image, and powerlessness are just some of the repercussions that victims of sexual harassment at school experience, according to research conducted by Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). This Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization works to “improve gender and race relations and socioeconomic conditions for [the] most vulnerable youth and communities of color.” Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Megan Huppuch of GGE have collaboratively written Hey, Shorty!, which tells GGE’s story, while providing a model for teens to teach their peers what constitutes sexual harassment and how to prevent it. The book also gives activists, educators, parents and students a hands-on guide to combat sexual harassment and violence in their schools and neighborhoods.

In September 2001, just a few months after GGE had started meeting to play basketball, an 8-year-old girl was raped on her way to school in the area. In response to the victim blaming that GGE founder Joanne Smith heard, she decided to discuss gender stereotypes and discrimination with the girls in the league. This evolved into Gender Respect Workshops, developed and facilitated by Mandy Van Deven with male and female students in the classroom. She discovered that sexual harassment was a major issue in the lives of the students, particularly girls and LGBTQ youth. Soon after, the Sisters in Strength program was born, and today it has become a paid year-long internship for teen girls of color to advocate for the enforcement of sexual harassment policies in New York City public schools through workshops and direct action.

Sisters in Strength’s first task was to raise awareness about the problem in the community, which led to their making Hey... Shorty!, a short film that later won Best Youth Documentary at the Roxbury Film Festival. They screened their film at the Street Harassment Summit, where they shared what they had learned with other members of the community.

A second Sisters in Strength project involved hands-on participatory action research. The teen interns collected information through surveys, focus groups, and slam books, or notebooks with written prompts that students can respond to anonymously. After compiling their data, they concluded that sexual harassment was rampant and normalized. Their research results were presented at GGE's Gender Equality Festival to other community organizations. Under Meghan Huppuch’s leadership, GGE went on to form the Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools with more than twenty other area organizations.

The work of GGE may well have given us the solution to bullying that we have so desperately sought. When we are sexually harassed, we believe we are alone and somehow deserve this treatment. In other words, we internalize our pain and suffer in silence. But from GGE’s research and community action, we see that this pervasive problem lies not within the person being harassed, but with the external forces that perpetuate and enable sexual harassment to exist in our schools and on our streets.

GGE is an empowering initiative for teens, our future leaders, and Hey, Shorty! is an essential resource for parents, teachers and community leaders who want to take action against bullying and sexual harassment in their communities. Chock full of capacity-building activities and ideas, Hey, Shorty! is indispensable for anyone who wants to create an environment where everyone thrives.

Written by: Heather Leighton, April 30th 2011

Can't wait to read this!

GGE is currently fundraising for a nationwide book tour and would love your readers to support by visiting www.indiegogo.com/HeyShortyontheRoad and making a contribution!

I'm already part way through this great book. As someone who also works for equality, social justice and empowering youth in our communities, I find it oddly comforting to see others coming up against similar struggles and obstacles. What's even more refreshing is GGE's ability to overcome these obstacles and setbacks, learn from them and grow their programs. I've gathered some great tips, tools and ideas that I'm looking forward to integrating into my own program and community. I think it's a must read for anyone working with youth or for social change.