Nearly half of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the last school year, according to a study scheduled for release on Monday, with 87 percent of those who have been harassed reporting negative effects such as absenteeism, poor sleep and stomachaches.
On its survey of a nationally representative group of 1,965 students, the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit research organization, defined harassment as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically.” Over all, girls reported being harassed more than boys — 56 percent compared with 40 percent — though it was evenly divided during middle school. Boys were more likely to be the harassers, according to the study, and children from lower-income families reported more severe effects. [...]
In the survey, students were asked to identify what had the worst effect on them. For boys, it was being called gay — “Everyone was saying I was gay, and I felt the need to have to run away and hide,” a ninth-grader said. For girls, the leading problem was having someone make “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures to or about you.”
AAUW‘s Holly Kearl noted, “[b]ullying is getting a lot of attention [...] we don’t want schools to forget about sexual harassment.” But it seems to me that a lot of the sexual harassment described here is bullying. Would it be more effective to address sexual harassment as a form of bullying? Studies suggest that both Title IX policies and anti-bullying legislation is needed, especially considering the fact that Title IX doesn’t have the potential for enumerated policies that anti-bullying legislation does. And unwanted touching and gestures would likely not be considering a form of bullying — and that form of sexual harassment is important to put a specific name to.
Update: Kearl of AAUW shed some light in comments,
[I]n some states, sexual harassment and bullying are treated the same, but currently, that is not the case in all states, especially since not all states have anti-bullying legislation. There is an explosion of attention on bullying and we want to make sure that all schools are still addressing and acknowledging sexual harassment…it is often defined and treated differently and sexual harassment can be actionable under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.
You are right that this is not the ideal situation we want to be in. AAUW supports the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which was introduced in both the U.S. House (H.R. 1648) and Senate (S. 506). If enacted, this law would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require all schools receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying AND harassment.
Check out AAUW’s full report here.