Local leaders take a stand against sexual harassment

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Amid the uptick in national news coverage of sexual harassment allegations, local leaders and institutions are taking steps to ensure that such misconduct is not tolerated.

Defining sexual harassment

According to the New York State Department of Human Rights, sexual harassment in the form of a “hostile environment” consists of words, signs, jokes, pranks, intimidation or physical violence that are of a sexual nature, or that are directed at an individual because of that person’s gender.

Sexual harassment also consists of any unwanted verbal or physical advances, sexually explicit derogatory statements, or sexually discriminatory remarks made by someone in the workplace that are offensive or objectionable to the recipient, cause discomfort or humiliation, or interfere with the recipient’s job performance.

Bellmore-Merrick School district takes action

Mara Bollettieri, the Deputy Superintendent of Personnel at the Bellmore-Merrick School District, said, with regards to sexual harassment, that promoting a safer atmosphere begins with education. Each year within the district, staff members meet with a Title IX officer to learn how to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and handle such cases. Students also attend assemblies where they learn how to report sexual misconduct, and can do so by anonymously filling out a form found on the district’s website.

“I think it’s important for the students to be aware… of how to report [sexual harassment cases] and who to report to,” Bollettieri said.

This year, the district updated its policies to increase reactionary measures if sexual harassment should occur on campus grounds. Such changes included protections for third parties, which include school visitors, vendors or guest speakers. Also, the policy states, the district will address sexual harassment complaints made through electronic communication in addition to those verbal and written.

“Everything else, we thought, was up-to-date and covered everything it needed to,” Bollettieri said.

Congresswoman Rice speaks out

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City, has emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of ending sexual harassment in Congress once and for all. She appeared recently on CNN to call on Rep. John Conyers, 88, a Democrat from Michigan, to resign after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against the 52-year congressman and one-time civil rights activist. He stepped down last week.

Many people, it appeared, were at first reluctant to call on Conyers to resign. He was, his supporters said, an icon, having served in the Korean War, marched during the civil rights movement and helped found the Congressional Black Caucus. Rice was not among those who were swayed by his record.

“When the recent wave of credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault reached Rep. John Conyers, my colleague in the House and a fellow Democrat, I felt we needed to show that we would no longer allow ourselves or our colleagues to be held to a double standard,” Rice said in a statement. “If we believe the women, as so many of us say we do, then we can’t just go on serving alongside and working with colleagues who we believe have preyed on women.

“That’s the standard we expect in the media, in entertainment and throughout the private sector, and the standard for public servants should, if anything, be even higher,” she continued. “That doesn’t mean that every politician who faces a single accusation should resign immediately. It means that if we believe the women, we should act accordingly. I believe the women who accused Rep. Conyers.”

She went on to say that she also believed the women who accused U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Ruben Kihuen and Rep. Blake Farenthold.

“I believe and I hope that we’ve made real progress on this issue over the past two weeks,” Rice concluded. “We’ve identified what the standard should be for politicians who violate the public trust by harassing or assaulting women. Now we need to stick to it.”