TX nonprofit says more than 200 Fort Worth-area students alleged they were sexually abused in 2017

TX nonprofit says more than 200 Fort Worth-area students alleged they were sexually abused in 2017
A Fort Worth, Texas, school program is teaching students how to avoid sexual harassment and abuse. The classroom curriculum is designed to teach students that sexual harassment is not normal. (Duane Prokop/Getty Images)

As reports of sexual harassment and abuse continue to pile up in the media, more voices are speaking out. This time, it’s children.

The kids came forward through a nonprofit program in Fort Worth, Texas, that educates students as young as fifth grade on how to avoid becoming a victim — and a perpetrator — of sexual harassment.

After participating in a course offered this year by The Women’s Center of Tarrant County, 237 area students reported that they have experienced sexual abuse, KXAS-TV reported.

Instructors from the Women’s Center teach courses in schools throughout Tarrant County, an area in North Central Texas with a total population of nearly 2 million. That includes the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington and other outlying areas.

The Women’s Center says its classroom curriculum is designed to teach students that sexual harassment is not normal, KXAS reported.

“Who starts this conversation?” Amy Suffield, an instructor with Community Education Services at the Center, told the station. “I think it starts with things like the silence-breakers standing up all together and saying, ‘Together, we’re saying this is wrong.’ And we all need to play a part in fixing it.”

Standing before a fifth-grade class, Suffield told students: “You always have a right to say what happens to your body.”

The problem might be more widespread than people realize. According to The American Association of University of Women, eight in 10 students experience some form of sexual harassment during their school lives.

“There is a culture of normalization,” Suffield said.

Suffield teaches classes on sexual harassment through The Women Center’s “Play It Safe” program for students in  pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Through her work, Suffield has found that inappropriate sexual comments or behavior is seen as early as kindergarten. Even at that age, students are starting to “normalize” the behavior, she said.

“We need to start a conversation, but it’s a hard conversation to have,” Suffield told KXAS. “When we open the conversation up to the students they start to realize, ‘Oh now I can speak up, or my voice does matter.’ We can shift the mindset.”