Mothyna James-Brightful, director of community education at TurnAround, a domestic violence and sexual assault center in Baltimore, speaks to teens about the difference between flirting and sexual harassment during "Teens and Bullying," an hourlong seminar presented Oct. 11 at the Teen Center.

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Oct. 18, 2012) -- The difference between flirting and sexual harassment was the topic of an hourlong seminar presented in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.

"Teens and Bullying" was held Oct. 11 at the Teen Center. The guest speaker was Mothyna James-Brightful, director of community education at TurnAround, a domestic violence and sexual assault center in Baltimore.

"We haven't seen a lot of bullying," said Gia Dey, acting supervisory program specialist for Fort Meade's middle school and teen programs. "We try to incorporate awareness of bullying into the youth programs. We try to give kids the tools to deal with different people and situations."

James-Brightful spoke to the small group of teens in attendance about the difference between flirting and sexual harassment and how sexual harassment can become a form of bullying.

"I thought it was great," said Kimberly Mitchell, 14, a freshman at Glen Burnie High School. "I learned that anyone can be a harasser -- not just older men or guys. Girls can be, too."

James-Brightful began the seminar by defining sexual harassment as unwanted sexual behavior that can include physical contact, sexual comments or sexual propositions. Bullying, she said, is any form of emotional, verbal or physical abuse that can take place in-person or through social media.

In 2008, 19.9 percent of all teens surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported they were bullied in that year. For girls, the percentage was higher -- 21.2 percent. For boys, the percentage was 18.7 percent.

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002, 81 percent of students will experience some form of sexual harassment in school.

James-Brightful presented several different scenarios of flirting and sexual harassment.

"We're going to be real and we're going to be forthright," she said, using vivid language in the scenarios.

She then asked the teens to determine whether the behavior was flirting or sexual harassment.

"Who decides if the behavior is wanted or unwanted? The person receiving the behavior," she said.

Flirting, James-Brightful noted, is welcome, mutual attention that makes a person feel flattered or attractive. Flirting makes people feel good about themselves and is legal in school.

"But it can be confusing" to determine the difference between flirting and sexual harassment, she said.

"The No. 1 question you need to ask yourself to clarify the issue is: Is it [the behavior] respectful?" James-Brightful said. "Flirting is always respectful."

The teens learned that anyone can be a harasser or a bully and there are serious consequences for such behavior.

"How many people have heard about young people who have killed themselves?" James-Brightful asked. "Why did it happen? Because they were being bullied."

Sexual harassment also can be calling people sexually derogatory names and making disrespectful comments about a person's sexual orientation, James-Brightful said.

It doesn't matter, she said, if the statement is true or not; if the statement is disrespectful, it is sexual harassment and can also be a form of bullying.

James-Brightful said there also are boundaries of appropriate behavior between adults and teenagers. Flirting is never appropriate between adults and teens, under any circumstances.

Teens who feel they are being sexually harassed or bullied should tell an adult, or depending on the circumstances, call the police for help.

However, she said, physical violence or acts of retaliation for bullying or harassment are not condoned.

Among those who attended was Cody Fox, a freshman at Meade High School.

"I thought it was good," the 14-year-old said. "It's not good for someone to touch people in inappropriate ways."

Cody reflected on his own experiences when he attended eighth grade in Michigan last year.

"People tried to beat me up," he said.

The bullying eventually stopped after Cody told a teacher and principal about the harassment.

"They talked to him. He finally just gave it up," Cody said.

Page last updated Thu October 18th, 2012 at 00:00