|Image from Flickr, studiostoer|
A new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that 48% of middle and high school students experienced sexual harassment last year, according to Good Education. The new study revealed that 56% of girls and 40% of boys reported being sexually harassed. While most of the harassment was verbal, many students also said they had been subjected to physical and electronic harassment.
Only 9% reported the harassment to a teacher, guidance counselor or administrator, and only 27% told their family. While these numbers are sad, they are not surprising, considering that often times the harassers are the adults on campus.
“Hostile Hallways,” a similar AAUW study done in 1992, found that 20% of girls and 10% of boys reported being sexually harassed by school faculty or staff. An earlier survey of North Carolina high school graduates, however, found that 82% of girls and nearly 20% of boys had been sexually harassed by school employees (See “Scapegoat Generation,” by Mike Males, Common Courage Press, 1996).
During my first year teaching, two of my female students accused a male colleague of sexually harassing them. One said he came up behind her in the hallway, squeezed her hips, and said, “My, you’re getting chunky.” The other said he complimented her on her bra and then, when she told him to F-off, told her that was the best offer he’d gotten all week. When I mentioned it to the school social worker, she told me he had been repeatedly accused of similar offenses, but always got away with it. When I reported it to the administration, the principal called me into his office and asked what I had against the man.
In the end, I have no idea whether he was reprimanded in any way. He was promoted within a few years and became dean of a middle school and then an assistant principal.
While it is particularly disturbing to know that those who are responsible for the safety of our children are sometimes the ones who are threatening them, what is much more common is their unwillingness to intervene to stop harassment by others. School employees sometimes ignore put downs or the objectification of students, or refuse to enforce rules prohibiting such behavior. At one school where I worked, the administration responded to a lunchtime melee in which several students attacked a lesbian couple with cans and food by suspending only 2 of the attackers and the 2 victims, and offered a voluntary debriefing for interested students, facilitated not by counselors or social workers, but by other students.
Those who dismiss bullying as a rare or insignificant event will hopefully be enlightened by this recent data on sexual harassment. When we consider that nearly half of all students experience sexual harassment, the conclusion ought to be that bullying is the norm, not the exception. While many of the abusers felt that what they were doing was “no big thing,” or “just a joke,” nearly 30% of the victims said they had trouble sleeping, frequently felt sick or did not want to go to school.