Culture Shock · Jr. High School Education · Living in Japan · Teaching

No Laughing Matter: Sexual Harassment

So, I am sure that you all reading my blog have figured out from my status updates via Twitter that things have been very stressful for me recently. To put things bluntly, I was sexually harassed and borderline assaulted by the very students I teach and I made it public to the junior high school last Monday that I refused to teach their second year students – first and third year students have shown no such behavior. Now, before everyone freaks out, although those close to me already know the details, let me just break down exactly what happened.

1. I have been asked, almost on a daily basis, what my bra size is, when I first had sex, if I will have sex with them, if it would be ok for them to touch my breasts, and other totally inappropriate questions by students. Note, this essentially started the first week I started working at junior high school.

2. When I have attempted to avoid such things as those listed above by wear more layers or clothing that does not show my figure, there are students (and one who is very vocal) who shout across the hallway or room that I am getting fat.

3. Two boys touch themselves (and I do mean in that area but not with their hands in their pants) when they find me eating alone in the lunch room and ask me to watch them. Note, this happened once and came close to happening another time. Since it first happened (at the beginning of this semester) I make sure that I am never alone in any room in the school.

4. When I wear collared or button up shirts, male students complain that they cannot see my chest well enough and ask me (usually with motions) to unbutton my shirt so they can see. This was usually followed by students asking if once I unbutton my shirt if they could touch my breasts.

5. Two girl students ran up to me and grabbed my breast. They then squealed and said, “So soft!” When I got angry at them and told them that their behavior was sexual harassment, they laughed and thought it was cute that I knew the word for sexual harassment in Japanese (セクハラ:sekuhara). Note, this only happened once and it was my breaking point and is what made me finally break my silence.

6. Students have pulled on my clothing to try to catch a glance at what is under my shirt. When students succeed, they announce to the entire room what color my bra is. Thankfully, I have yet to have students try to either see under my bra. Note, this has happened at least twice in the past month. Note, also my breaking point.

One may ask that since most of the above had been happening since I started teaching at this particular junior high school, why had I not said something sooner? The first forms of sexual harassment were mostly verbal and I assumed that if I ignored their inappropriate questions and told the students to knock it off, they would stop. My first term went OK and I just had to deal with verbal forms of harassment, but I figured it would stop after their spring vacation as I would no longer be a new ALT but a familiar face in the classroom.

However, things only became worse with the beginning of the new school year.

Starting the beginning of this semester things just kept getting worse and worse as students became more and more interested in asking such questions. Even if I told students to knock it off because it was rude and made me feel very uncomfortable, they would laugh and not take it seriously. Things finally escalated to touching and borderline sexual assault and I totally broke down one day. I left work 2 hours early without even asking and rode my bike back to my apartment where I curled up in a blanket and cried until Jun came back from school. I think all the pent up frustration from dealing with verbal harassment for so long just exploded with students breaking the barrier and touching me in inappropriate ways.

I then spent the entire weekend living in fear of the coming Monday and having to go back to the school. Jun, who had seen me come home in tears more than once from dealing with this type of behavior for so long, told me that I should write a letter to my school explaining exactly what had been happening. Seeing as I broke into tears just thinking about it all, he thought a letter would be best as I could express myself without talking and there could be no way that they would not understand it because he would write the Japanese for me. We spent a few minutes of me explaining things in English as he translated into Japanese.

I had told my boss at the Kawagoe Institute of Education several weeks previously that I was being verbally sexually harassed by students and his response was, “Boys are very interested in those things at that age. I know it is summer soon, but please wear high collared shirts or button up shirts and then there will be no problem.” Well, I think it is clear that his solution was pretty much crap. I cried after that meeting too because he was making it out to be no big deal and was in fact putting the blame on me for “inappropriate dress.” I have been told more than once by the school’s principle that I am the most well-dressed ALT she has seen in a long time and I always look really professional. I think if there had been a problem she would have informed me. When I sent my boss a copy of the letter I gave to my school, he went into shock. This was probably because he had been playing down the actual situation.

So, where does that leave me now? Still breaking down into tears whenever a teacher asks me about how I am feeling in terms of the experience. I almost left school after third period the other day when the head second year teacher told me that “starting next week you will return to second year classes.” I told her that I was not ready for that mentally and emotionally as I was no where near forgiving the students for putting me through near hell and totally disrespecting me as a human being. I think I made my point clear enough through tearful Japanese. I am having a hard time trusting any junior high school students at the moment and have a hard enough time standing in front of students who I have not little or no problems with.

Thankfully, the school’s principle is very understanding and my favorite teacher (3rd year English teacher, Ms. Misawa) are 100% behind me and think it is ridiculous to ask me to return to second year classes this term. The Institute of Education has sent people to observe the second year students because their overall behavior has been dismal this year – something breaks every other day, they get into huge fights, bullying, harassing teachers, destroy school property…Some students even set off a smoke bomb-firecracker outside the teacher’s room a few weeks ago. All in all, this is making for a very stressful work environment for everyone at the school. In some ways, I am glad that it is not just me having all the problems. The students are just totally out of control. There are weekly meetings with second year parents to discuss what has been going on with the students and a 2 hour long discussion about how to go about fixing things. Parents are in for a big surprise this week when they hear their students have been sexually harassing a teacher.

This is why I am making a formal request to switch junior high schools before the beginning of the next term.

Although, despite the damage done to me emotionally and mentally from the sexual harassment, I make such a request a little reluctantly. I am very attached to the current 3rd year students and really wanted to see them graduate. Every school event I have participated in since arriving at this junior high school, students from the 3rd year class have almost made it their goal to include me. For their school’s sports festival they asked me to dance Soran Bushi with them and even went and bought a happi for me to wear. They are respectful towards me and several students spend their break time asking me questions about American culture and English. I will be really sad to say good bye to them and I am not sure if I would be able to tell them that I won’t be coming back. I am sure they will understand my reasons for leaving though.

Recently, I have been wondering if this is really the right job for me. These recent developments have really crushed my spirits and challenged me to think about what I am doing. After my initial announcement to the school about sexual harassment, I spent the day mostly in tears at my desk. The next day I went to my elementary school and I remember why I am doing the job that I am. I love to teach. There is nothing I would rather do than expand young minds and encourage curiosity. Right now, the timing for this particular school is not in my favor and I need to find roots in a better environment. Maybe I can just teach elementary school. I would really like that.

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