Every other year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is required to collect data on “key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools.” A few years ago, the survey grew to include reports of bullying and harassment.
An analysis of the 2011-2012 school year data show that disparities between bullying and harassment on the basis of sex increase between boys and girls as they progress through school. While girls at every level are harassed on the basis of their sex at a higher rate than boys, the disparities increase with age.
“Harassment or bullying on the basis of sex is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” according to a Department of Education definition. “Harassment or bullying on the basis of sex also includes gender-based, nonsexual harassing conduct, such as harassment based on gender stereotyping. This conduct can be carried out by school employees, other students, and non-employee third parties. Both male and female students can be victims of sexual harassment, and the harasser and the victim can be of the same sex.”
As you can see by the graphic above, middle school is where the most reports of bullying or harassment are made for both genders. However, in a traditional high school (grades 9-12), reports of harassment are as much as 56 percent higher for girls than their male counterparts, up from 34 percent in middle school (grades 6-8) and 20 percent in elementary school (grades 1-5).
The data is self-reported and likely understates the problem. Since the bullying and harassment question is new to the survey, the Office for Civil Rights reports that it’s hard for some schools to provide accurate data.
For example, of the nearly 3,900 public schools in Florida, there were only 606 incidents in the data. Vermont, which has 295 public schools, reported 709 incidents over the same year.
There’s also the issue of under-reporting among students. Many students never come forward to report being bullied for fear that it may make things worse.
The next collection, which took place this last school year, will likely be out in two years and will hopefully refine results as schools get used to the reporting requirements.