New Study: Sexual harassment prevalent in grades 7 to 12

The New York Times reports:

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.

Thoughts?

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.

Via Women’s eNews.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Oh my God….when is this going to stop? I fear my little cousins, one of them now in middle school, will go through the same thing.

  2. Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for covering AAUW’s report! You are right that in 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.

    • Posted November 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      To chime in from a prevention education standpoint as someone who works in the schools providing sexual harassment education – I agree that it would be and is beneficial to address some forms of sexual harassment as a form of bullying. With many of the things I address when talking with students I could easily interchange the word bullying for sexual harassment. However, as Holly Kearl so aptly illuminated there has been an absolute explosion of attention regarding bullying to the exclusion of language addressing sexual harassment and to the point that many schools I work with only want education around bullying. While there are similar foundations to the discussions there are several aspects of sexual harassment that I think do require disctinction, not the least of which is its place on a gendered violence continuum. And I think there is a distinct benefit of being able to address the gendered roots of forms of harassment such as calling another student gay or making unwelcome sexual comments. And this is what it seems many schools are not interested in getting at. All of this is to say, of course, that I wholeheartedly agree that we need to use ALL tools in our arsenal to address bullying and sexual harassment. And simply to add that we need to fight to make sure that this isn’t done at the cost of conflating the two.

  3. Posted November 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    File this under “things I’ve known since I got sexually harassed in the 6th grade.”

    • Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Me too. Only it was Year 5 in NZ (I think that’s equivalent to 4th or 5th grade?). My teacher thought it was ‘cute’ and encouraged the boy harassing me. To this day I hope he hasn’t gone on to do something worse.

  4. Posted November 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Yes, as a recent high school graduate (2009), I can definitely relate to this from personal experience. My main problem was with unwarranted touching, pinching, or tickling by male classmates who must have felt entitled to “cop a feel” just because I happened to be sitting in front of them in class. Also, I bore witness to many guys picking girls up or playfully restraining them, which I guess was harmless but seemed to assert their physical prowess over them. The school seemed to reinforce the idea that guys could not control themselves by imposing strict dress codes on girls for the reason of limiting “distraction”. The book “Dude You’re a Fag” offers an interesting analysis of high school masculinity. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this subject.

  5. Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school, I saw sexual harassment everyday. There was a boy who harassed me everyday in class, and for so long my school did nothing about it. I also knew this boy who would go around and grope a lot of girls’ butts, just to see their reaction. Those guys always seemed to find it really funny when the girl would get angry and yell at them. It’s fundamental disrespect to treat someone like that. I think it’s possible that classifying it as bullying would be good, whatever it takes to get schools to punish it and stop it in its tracks.

  6. Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    A student comitting sexual harassment should be taken just as seriously as a student hitting other students, with the same interventions.

  7. Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. Thirty-four years ago, when I was 11, I was sexually assaulted by three boys who wrestled me to the ground – in full view of all the other, snickering students in my Grade 7 class – and grabbed at my budding, quasi non-existent breasts. They were doing it to mock me, of course. This happened after years of bullying by the same kids, in the same school. There was at least one other girl I remember getting sexually assaulted, because in her case, she’d developed early. She was chased by a horde of boys and called a slut. She was 14. So no, it’s nothing new; but hopefully, adults and peers will step in and stop it.

  8. Posted November 8, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I was born in the late 1970s and grew up in Western Europe, and in my experience, sexual harassment was extremely prevalent in school, beginning at the age of maybe 10-11. Except in those days, nobody referred to it as that. Except it was very distressing and embarrassing to have to go through it every single day. Boys would lift our skirts, pinch our breasts, touch our buttocks, try to come and see us naked in our lockers, sometimes try to touch us very indecently, shame us for having our periods (they’d go through our backpacks looking for pads and tampons) and blackmail us into going out with them or they’d reveal to the world we had our periods (it was so taboo to have your periods). All this was just normal fun and games to the teachers, and to the girls, well, it was just considered part of the normal thing to have to go through growing up a girl.
    I live in the US now, but US or Europe, if I ever heard my daughter telling me now anything even remotely close to what I had to go through, I’d be on a rampage!!!!

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