Just as sexual harassment is claiming headlines in the presidential race, a new study to be published today finds that sexual harassment is a widespread phenomenon in middle and high schools across the country.
The American Association of University Women report said just about half of students surveyed reported being the target of unwelcome sexual comments or gestures, inappropriate touching, sexual rumors, homophobic taunts or electronic sexual harassment. The vast majority was student-on-student.
Also, many of the students who admitted to harassing others thought their actions were “no big deal.” But the overwhelming majority who endured the harassment found it to be a very big deal. So big, in fact, the targets often reported feeling sick or skipping school.
“Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School” is the result of a survey of about 2,000 students nationwide in grades seventh through twelfth.
There are several illuminating findings in the report: Harassed students rarely report it to an adult; cyber-sexual harassment is a growing problem; girls are more often the victims (56 percent of girls reported at least one incident of harassment in the previous year), though boys are more often targeted with homophobic slurs.
It is the disconnect between perpetrator and target that strikes me as particularly interesting.
Eighty-three percent of admitted harassers said they were either trying to be funny or that they thought their actions were inconsequential.
Meanwhile, many of the targets reported that the most negative incidents caused them to lose sleep or miss school. Some reported longer-term problems. Ten percent of girls and six percent of boys who had been harassed said their problems lasted “quite a while.”
“Everyone was saying I was gay, and I felt the need to run away and hide,” reported one ninth grade boy, according to the report.
Another student told researchers that after being the target of sexual rumors she “tried to ignore it,” but later “thought of suicide.”
The researchers found that it was this age group where sexual harassment first becomes a problem. Which means it’s in this age group when adult invention might be the most useful.
One of the obvious facts that emerges from the survey is that the victims of harassment need adults to confide in. It seems the harassers, too, need to have a mature conversation about the effects of sexual harassment. It’s not a joke. It is a big deal. If the kids can learn that, then maybe they’ll grow into adults who will understand that too.
Has your child dealt with sexual harassment? Do you think it’s a problem in schools?