Since becoming a declared union member, the company’s attitude has changed. At the time of the second incident, I notified my supervisor just as I did the first time, but also made them aware that the union was monitoring the situation. This time, I was taken seriously and the student was removed from my schedule almost immediately.
I would highly recommend that anyone who experiences sexual harassment from students—or even coworkers—to contact the union for advice.
Apart from these major incidents, along the way there have been so many smaller things that have contributed to make me feel ill at ease in my booth. The first time I brought one to the attention of my immediate supervisor, I was actually laughed at. I became nervous about complaining about anything that wasn’t ‘bad enough.’ I didn’t want to be seen as crying wolf too many times and risk having a serious issue ignored. After that I tried to swallow my feelings of being violated and only talked about them in a joking way — just enough to blow off some steam so I could move on, so I could show up again with a smile the next day (or for the next lesson).
I’ve been talking to other teachers from multiple schools about their own experiences, and I have come to realize that my case is far from unique. Everyone jokes about close-sitters, but some teachers experience being touched (including under the table), seeing students touch themselves, having students make suggestive comments or gestures, being asked personal questions about where they live, who they live with or for details about their sex lives. Some are persistently flirted at, have their appearance a frequent topic of conversation, are repeatedly pressured to give contact information, go on dates with clients or even perform sexual acts. Instructors have also been approached outside of the school, and even followed.
Sometimes office staff members are truly supportive and do what they can to protect their instructors, but in other cases they are unresponsive, dismissive or even openly hostile to instructors who complain.
Of course, supervisors are limited in what they can do. At my school, they can recommend that the student be removed from a teacher’s schedule, but cannot ask them to change branch or completely leave the company. This leaves teachers open to intimidation in the school and further victimization outside of it.
Furthermore, there are students who are infamous among teachers due to their inappropriate behavior, yet they are allowed to continue taking lessons, repeatedly harassing teachers in turn without a word of warning from management.
What can we do?
It may feel easier at the time to put up with things, to ignore it and hope it stops. Sometimes it does and you may feel relief that it didn’t go any further. However, nothing changes. Students can go and do the same thing to a hundred other instructors—or maybe worse. Personally, I hate the feeling of knowing that this kind of thing could happen at any time to me or to my coworkers. It’s time to change the system to make it less likely for clients to cross the line and also to give instructors some real support when it does happen. If we continue to gaman it is certain to happen again and again.
The lack of a clear policy regarding how schools deal with such incidents is disturbing. Especially with news reports like that of Lindsay Hawker (an eikaiwa instructor who was stalked, raped and killed by a student) I can’t say I feel like I’ve been adequately protected by my company.
We are submitting demands for my company to develop a sexual harassment policy and code of conduct for students. How about at your company?
Take our sexual harassment survey here