Junior High School Students' Perceptions regarding Nonconsensual Sexual Behavior

By Jordan, Timothy R.; Price, James H. et al. | Journal of School Health, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Junior High School Students' Perceptions regarding Nonconsensual Sexual Behavior


Jordan, Timothy R., Price, James H., Telljohann, Susan K., Chesney, Barbara K., Journal of School Health


A growing body of evidence suggests nonconsensual sexual activity as a problem in America's schools. As a result of increased awareness, expensive litigation, and the obvious deleterious effects on the lives of students, more researchers, educators, school administrators, and policymakers have begun to scrutinize this significant school health issue.

In 1993, the American Association of University Women sponsored a nationwide survey of public school students (n = 1,632) in grades 8-11 from 79 schools.[1] Four of five students (81%) reported they had been the target of some form of sexual harassment. Of those who reported being sexually harassed, 47% were in grades 6-9. Further, 32% of victims reported they first experienced sexual harassment before the seventh grade. The most common forms of sexual harassment included sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks (76% of girls and 56% of boys). The second most common form of sexual harassment was touching, grabbing, and/or pinching in a sexual way (65% of girls and 42% of boys).

Other studies support sexual harassment as a problem in adolescent populations. Moore, Nord, and Peterson[2] used data from a 1987 nationally representative sample of young people and estimated that 7% of respondents, primarily women ages 18-22, had experienced at least one episode of nonvoluntary sexual intercourse during childhood or adolescence. Just less than one-half of these experiences occurred before age 14. In 1991, Erickson and Rapkin[3] published results from a survey of 1,197 middle and high school students in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Fifteen percent (n = 179) of students reported they had experienced an unwanted sexual behavior. Females (18%), high school students (17%), and African Americans (19%), were more likely to have been the victims of such behavior. Thirty-nine percent of the unwanted sexual experiences occurred when the respondent was 12 years of age or less. Of the 56% who described the sexual experiences in writing, 14% indicated the sexual experience resulted from partner pressure that was not physical, but which involved varying degrees of psychological or emotional pressure. In 1993, Small and Kerns[4] published a study that surveyed more than 1,100 7th-, 9th-, and 11th-grade females. Twenty-one percent of female respondents had experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact the past year. Of this group, 36% reported they had been forced to have sexual intercourse. The balance (64%) reported some type of unwanted touching or physical contact.

Results from a sexual harassment questionnaire administered to high school-aged student leaders from 13 school districts in Minnesota indicated that 80% of the students were aware of sexual harassment in their schools; 75% said they were aware of sexual harassment between students; 50% said they were aware of sexual harassment between students and staff; 26% reported sexual harassment "goes on all the time;" 50% said "it happens to a fair number of people;" and only 6% of students responded "it does not happen."[5] Another study in Minnesota was conducted at a secondary vocational education center that serves four school districts in a seven-county metropolitan area. A total of 250 senior high school students was surveyed regarding the prevalence of sexual harassment. Fifty percent of females reported having been sexually harassed at school.[6]

In a study of 11-16 year-old students in the upper Midwest, Roscoe et al[7] gathered information on 561 early adolescents' experiences with and acceptance of sexual harassment behaviors. The researchers presented a list of behaviors to students and asked them to identify behaviors they had personally experienced. The list ranged from nonassaultive behaviors such as sexual comments, teasing, sexual gossip/rumors, phone calls, pressure for dates, touching, rubbing, and pinching to highly assaultive behaviors, such as grabbing, pushing, sexual advances, pressure for sexual activity, and sexual assault. …

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