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By Lauren Kalina, AFY Intern

Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue -– and one that I refuse to stay silent about any longer.According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This can include anything from catcalls on a street corner to cyber and in-person bullying in schools to inappropriate sexual behavior and even rape.

Recently, more and more instances of sexual harassment have been brought to the public eye:

Jerry Sandusky
, a former Penn State football coach was charged last weekend with 40 counts of child sexual assault for molesting eight boys over a 15 year period. Sandusky started a charity called The Second Mile for troubled youth and found his victims through its programs.

Herman Cain, GOP presidential candidate, was accused of sexual assault by four women last week. These women have said that while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association, he exhibited sexually suggestive behavior that elicited discomfort from his female employees.

The American Association of University Women released a study last week called Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. The study examined the answers of 1,965 nationally representative students in grades 7-12. Crossing The Line points out several key facts such as:

• 48% of the students surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school year.
• Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed, by a significant margin (56 percent versus 40 percent).
• 30% of students said that they had been sexually harassed through text, email, Facebook or some other form of electronic communication.
• Students experienced sexual harassment in regards to gender, sexual orientation and more.

All of these occurrences of sexual harassment are happening right before our very eyes. It’s time that we start taking action to ensure that sexual harassment perpetrators know that this kind of behavior is not OK. Here are some organizations and activists that are working to spread the word:

Hollaback – Hollaback is the movement to end street harassment. Victims of street harassment can share stories, pictures, comments, etc. through mobile technology and the internet. Right now, Hollaback websites have been launched in many major cities. Check to see if your city has one.

– SlutWalk is a series of protest marches that begin last April in Canada and rapidly spread all over the country and the world. According to the SlutWalk NYC website, SlutWalk is a worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and working to end sexual and domestic violence. Many SlutWalks have already taken place, but see if you can get involved in planning a SlutWalk event in your town.

Eve Ensler – Eve Ensler is the highly acclaimed playwright and feminist activist responsible for the Vagina Monologues. Last week, Ensler wrote a piece entitled “Over It” for the Huffington Post, proclaiming that she is “over” rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Ensler also wrote the piece “My short skirt” for the Vagina Monologues, excerpted below:

My short skirt
Is not an invitation
A provocation
An indication
That I want it
Or give it
Or that I hook.

My short skirt
Is not begging for it
It does not want you
To rip it off me
Or pull it down.

My short skirt
Is not a legal reason
For raping me
Although it has been before
It will not hold up
In the new court.

My short skirt, believe it or not
Has nothing to do with you.

Finally, since 1994, The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has protected women against violent gender-based harassment. According to the ACLU, this bill has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women. This year it is up for reauthorization, but as of yet, no senator or congressperson has introduced a bill to reauthorize this important piece of legislation. Please contact your senators and representatives to make sure that they support VAWA. Let them know that sexual harassment and violence towards women is not OK and that you, too, will no longer remain silent.