When a Letter Can Stop Unwelcome Advances

A DECADE before most schools debated how to deal with sexual harassment, Assistant Superintendent Beverly Lydiard of the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District in Lexington, Mass., had devised a policy that has been successful.

All freshmen students there attend a sexual-harassment seminar. And if a student feels he or she has been harassed, which Ms. Lydiard characterizes as unwelcome sexual advances, the student is encouraged to write a letter to the harasser. The letter has three parts: What happened, when, where, and how often; how it made the victim feel; and a request that the behavior stop. The letter informs the harasser that if it does stop, no disciplinary action will be taken. In all but one instance the harassment c eased.

Lydiard says this system applies to "minor activities" - not sexual assault or rape. "Much of low-level sexual harassment is a communications problem" that can be cleared up simply, she says. "One of the cornerstones of our guidelines is never ignore a sexual-harassment complaint ... no matter how trivial it may seem. This is one of the biggest mistakes a lot of schools make."

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