Academic journal article Social Work

Teenage Peer Sexual Harassment: Implications for Social Work Practice in Education

Academic journal article Social Work

Teenage Peer Sexual Harassment: Implications for Social Work Practice in Education

Article excerpt

Peer sexual harassment is a problem for both girls and boys in the educational environment, and the effects from this experience can affect students' lives negatively past high school. Many students report school performance difficulties as a result of sexual harassment, including absenteeism, decreased quality of schoolwork, skipping or dropping classes, lower grades, loss of friends, tardiness, and truancy. These symptoms in turn can lead to ineligibility for specific colleges or merit scholarships and loss of recommendations for awards, colleges, or jobs. All of these factors lead to fewer career choices and decreased or lost economic opportunities and possible job failure that can affect a student for the rest of her or his life (Stein, Marshall, & Tropp, 1993; Strauss & Espeland, 1992).

Strauss and Espeland (1992) studied sexual harassment in high schools in Minnesota. They observed that

many students say that sexual harassment is the norm in their schools. There have been numerous reports of sexual assaults and rapes on school grounds and in school buildings. In an environment that condones sexual harassment, everyone is a victim, not just those who are direct targets of the harassment. All students come to see school as an unsafe place, hostile and intimidating. They may alter their own behaviors in an attempt to decrease their sense of vulnerability. (p. 7)

Strauss and Espeland (1992), Stein et al. (1993), and the American Association of University Women (AAUW, 1993) Educational Foundation identified sexual harassing behaviors at the secondary school level. The AAUW report Hostile Hallways (1993) listed 14 types of sexual harassment and asked 1,600 high school students if someone had done any of the following things to them:

1. made sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks

2. showed, gave, or left you sexual pictures, photographs, illustrations, messages, or notes

3. wrote sexual messages/graffiti about you on bathroom walls, in locker rooms, and so forth

4. spread sexual rumors about you

5. said you were gay or lesbian

6. spied on you as you dressed or showered at school

7. flashed or "mooned" you

8. touched, grabbed, or pinched you in a sexual way

9. pulled at your clothing in a sexual way

10. intentionally brushed against you in a sexual way

11. pulled your clothing off or down

12. blocked your way or cornered you in a sexual way

13. forced you to kiss him or her

14. forced you to do something sexual, other than kissing. (p. 5)

Peer sexual harassment in high school also can include "spiking" or pulling down someone's pants, "snuggies" or pulling underwear up at the waist so it goes in between the buttocks, and being listed in "slam books," which identify students' names and have derogatory sexual comments written about them by other students (Strauss & Espeland, 1992).

In the AAUW Educational Foundation (1993), study four of five students reported being sexually harassed, and of those, 79 percent stated the harassment was by a peer. Most of the literature on sexual harassment indicates that over 90 percent of the time males are the perpetrators of sexual harassment against females (Langelan, 1993; Stein et al., 1993; Strauss & Espeland, 1992). The AAUW study was the first to document a high level of sexual harassment experienced by boys as well as girls. These findings are very different from the university and workplace literature that showed the sexual harassment of men in the workplace or university to be between 2 percent and 15 percent, while for women the range was from 40 percent to 53 percent (Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Gutek, 1985; Metha & Nigg, 1983; Pryor, La Vite, & Stoller, 1993; U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 1981, 1987). Gender issues are central to the understanding of peer sexual harassment, and this article will focus on them. …

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