The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has released Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, the most comprehensive, nationally representative research conducted in the past 10 years on sexual harassment in middle and high schools.
Sexual harassment pervades the lives of students in grades 7–12. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that they had been harassed in the 2010–11 school year. Of that number, a majority (87 percent) said that being harassed had a negative effect on them. Among the responses, one-third said they did not want to go to school as a result of the harassment. Another third said they felt sick to their stomachs.
The prevalence of sexual harassment in middle and high school comes as a surprise to many, in part because it is rarely reported. Only about 9 percent of harassed students told a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult at school about being sexually harassed.
"The AAUW report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School is a call to action to students, parents, teachers, and all of us who are concerned about the next generation," said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. "Many students feel sexual harassment is normal behavior, and often victims of sexual harassment in turn victimize other children. It's a vicious cycle that exacts an enduring emotional toll on students."
Included in the report are promising practices for how teachers, parents, and community groups in particular can help change the school climate.
"The good news is that the more we know about sexual harassment at school, the better we can combat it," said AAUW Director of Research and co-author Catherine Hill. "This report is nationally representative and provides fresh insight into this problem."
Creating, publicizing, and enforcing sexual harassment policies and adhering to the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 are other ways schools can bring attention to the issue and chip away at the problem.
"Our report clearly shows that, in many instances, we are failing to provide the safe environment necessary for our children to succeed," said Lisa Maatz, AAUW director of public policy and government relations. "Children and their families are too often left to fend for themselves when kids are harassed. Congress needs to strengthen federal protection for all students, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, perceived gender identity, or religion."