Sexual Harassment: Widespread Problem in Middle, High Schools

5 years ago

Think back to middle and high school. (Some of us have to think harder than others.) Did a boy ever snap your bra in the hallway? Did anyone ever call you a "slut" or a "whore"? Were you ever labeled a lesbian for playing basketball or having lots of male friends? Did anyone ever send you graphic pictures via email or spread rumors about you online? If so, you are sadly not alone. 

In a new study released today by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), more than half of the nearly 2,000 middle and high school students surveyed reported being sexually harassed within the last school year. Students reported that in-person harassment like sexual intimidation and unwanted touching was more likely than cyberharassment, though both are pervasive problems. Online harassment included unwanted messages from others and rumors and photos being spread. A whopping 87% of those who reported harassment said it contributed to issues like trouble sleeping, stomachaches, and even absenteeism. 

Differentiating sexual harassment from bullying is the gendered component of these types of physical gestures and verbal assaults. Not surprising, girls reported being harassed more than boys — 56% of girls and 40% of boys. Children and teens from low-income families reported more difficulties as a result of the harassment.

The study’s co-author, Holly Kearl, says that she wasn’t that surprised by the study’s results. Previous AAUW research, conducted in 2001, showed that 88% of students had been harassed across their school life. What did surprise Kearl was the correlation between gender and grade level. "Harassment increased for girls by age and grade level, while it deceased for boys as they got older and advanced in school," Kearl told me.

One troubling aspect of the study was that half of teens that reported being harassed during the study had not actually reported the harassment to a parent or teacher. “Parents should talk boys and girls about harassment, consent, and personal boundaries,” Kearl said. "Check in with your kids. Tell them, ‘You can come to me.’ Make yourself a safe resource because chances are, if your child isn’t being harassed, they may know someone who is."

Credit Image: © Cindy Yamanaka/The Orange County Register/

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