Sexual harassment is not just limited to the workplace. According to Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, a new study from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), it’s increasingly becoming a problem in middle and high school classrooms and corridors.
According to a survey of 1,965 students in 7th to 12th grades, harassment — whether in the form of unwanted sexual comments, jokes, gestures, physical overtures, or through email and Facebook — are a part of daily school life. About 48 percent of students said they had experienced some type of sexual harassment in 2010-2011. An overwhelming majority of those students — 87 percent — said the harassment had negative effects, which included a drop in productivity and increased absenteeism.
In the survey, sexual harassment included being touched in an unwelcome way, being called gay or lesbian in an unwanted way, having someone flash or expose themselves, and being shown sexual pictures the viewer didn’t want to see.
About one-third of students said they were harassed through electronic means such as email or Facebook. Many of those students also reported being sexually harassed in person.
Fifty-six percent of girls reported being sexually harassed, compared to 40 percent of boys. Girls were also more likely to be harassed both in person and in cyberspace.
Although the survey showed no significant difference in the prevalence of sexual harassment among different racial and ethnic groups, the findings suggest that black and Latino students may be affected more than white students. According to the report, Latino students are more likely to stay out of school because of sexual harassment. Black students who had been sexually harassed were more likely to get in trouble at school, drop out of activities and experienced trouble studying.
The report is another reminder that test scores and school achievement are often affected by factors that have nothing to do with academics. It also raises the question of how schools deal with sexual harassment. Is there a policy for handling sexual harassment reports from students? Do counselors and teachers receive training in how to help students who have experienced harassment?
In addition, why do Latino and black students seem to face more adverse effects due to harassment? Are their reports handled differently? Do they lack an out-of-school support system?