Sexual Harassment: Nearly Half of 7th- to 12th-Graders Targeted in a Year

Article excerpt

That's one finding in the first national study of the subject in a decade. The report also highlights some examples of how educators have been able to help students stand up to sexual harassment.

Nearly half of students in Grades 7 to 12 experience sexual harassment during the school year, according to a report out Monday - the first national study of the subject in a decade.

Adults need to create a climate that doesn't tolerate such peer- to-peer behavior, say the report's authors - especially since only 9 percent of the targets of sexual harassment report it at school.

"Sexual harassment doesn't get attention as much as bullying, because it's less comfortable to talk about ... but we hope this report is one way to start a conversation" school by school, says Catherine Hill, co-author of the report and director of research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington. "It is distinct from bullying in a number of ways ... and it has a disproportionate impact on female students."

Fifty-six percent of girls in the nationally representative survey about the 2010-11 school year said they were sexually harassed, compared with 40 percent of boys. 

Among the findings of  "Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School," published by AAUW:

- 33 percent said a peer had made unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures.

- 30 percent experienced sexual harassment by text message, e- mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.

- 18 percent were called gay or lesbian in a negative way.

- 13 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys were touched in an unwelcome sexual way.

- 4 percent of girls and 0.2 percent of boys reported being forced to do something sexual.

Students said they were eager to have anonymous ways to report such behavior, as well as structured discussions of sexual harassment and enforcement of rules against it.

AAUW is reaching out to groups such as Girls for Gender Equity, Men Can Stop Rape, and the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts to help raise awareness about sexual harassment and prevention.

Schools need to be alert to the issue, AAUW points out, to help stop a cycle of harassment - in which those who admit to harassing their peers often have already been harassed themselves. 

Many boys, for instance, report feeling upset about being called gay, and "that could prompt them to try to prove their masculinity" by going after girls in inappropriate sexual ways, says Holly Kearl, report co-author and a program manager at AAUW. …