Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

A Rising Pandemic of Sexual Violence in Elementary and Secondary Schools: Locating a Secret Problem

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

A Rising Pandemic of Sexual Violence in Elementary and Secondary Schools: Locating a Secret Problem

Article excerpt


This article posits that over the course of the last few decades incidents of sexual harassment in K-12 schools have been occurring at younger and younger ages and have become more sexually violent. Despite the paucity of survey data from elementary and middle school students and the general difficulty of acquiring data on sexual violence in schools, this article documents both of those assertions using ethnographic data, narratives acquired from lawsuits and reports in the media. Sexual violence in schools, which often gets named as something else, frequently is not reported to law enforcement or school officials; when it is surveyed, it is not disaggregated from incidents of physical violence, so these incidents of sexual violence are often classified as "physical violence." Moreover, data on violence and coercion in teen relationships (sometimes called "teen dating violence" or "intimate partner violence") outside of school is also considered as indicative of the increase in teen sexual violence. Despite this documented rise of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, the popular and more palatable term "bullying" is often used instead to describe these sexually violent incidents. Whether used innocently or as shorthand, when school officials call these sexual violent events "bullying," the violent and illegal (either under civil law or under criminal law) nature of these incidents is obscured and the school's responsibility and potential liability is deflected.


She was a twelve-year-old girl at the Eugene Butler Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida. (1) She was in the hall looking for an administrator to sign her tardy slip when she encountered several of her male classmates who were roaming the hails without a hall pass. (2) They grabbed her and pulled her down an empty corridor not far from where the school safety officer was usually located. (3) The four boys threw her into a bathroom, and once they were all in there, they bolted the door from the inside (it was one of those individual bathrooms that are usually not available to students and are supposed to be locked at all times unless under the supervision of an adult). (4) For the next thirty minutes, she was raped by one boy and forced to perform oral sex on the three others. (5) Her assailants were twelve, thirteen and fourteen years old, and her sexual assault happened during the school day. (6)

A. This is Not an Anomaly

Sexual assaults in schools can be found all over the country. For example, in February 2004, a ten-year-old girl in a Broward County, Florida school bathroom was raped. (7) In the past two school years, 11 sexual batteries, 113 sexual offenses and 67 cases of sexual harassment were reported in Broward County public elementary schools. (8) Many more incidents occurred at higher grade levels, for a total of 40 sexual batteries. (9)

Additionally, in December 2004 at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in San Francisco, a group of four twelve and thirteen-year-old boys accosted a twelve-year-old girl, dragging her into a locker room and demanding oral sex while restraining her. (10) The boys tried to remove her clothing. (11) A tally of sexual assault incidents In the first five months of the 2003-2004 school year, conducted by the San Francisco School District, showed twenty-five incidents: two took place at elementary schools, seventeen at middle schools, and six at high schools. (12) A comparative time period from the 2002-03 school year found a total of six incidents across the School District. (13)

While the preponderance of sexual assaults victimize girls (In fact, three-fourths of victims of juvenile sexual assault are female), (14) young boys are also targeted. In Louisiana, a five-year-old boy went to the bathroom in the company of three other male kindergarten students. (15) While in the restroom, the three boys sexually assaulted the one child by pulling down his pants, attempted anal intercourse with him and forced him to perform sexually explicit oral behavior with them. …

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