Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Teens report sexual harassment

Survey finds most culprits are schoolmates

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Eighty-one percent of the nation's eighth- through 11th-graders have been victims of sexual harassment in their public schools, according to a survey released today.

        That is unchanged from a 1993 study, even though the new survey found fewer admitted harassers, and a majority of students aware of school anti-harassment policies.

        Harassment happens in class, halls, gym and showers, students said, and worse than being forced into sex acts or having their clothing pulled off or down is being the subject of sexual rumors, or accused of being gay or lesbian.

        The survey, Hostile Hallways, was commissioned by the American Association of University Women's (AAUW) Educational Foundation and carried out last year by Harris Interactive.

    As a guideline for complaints in its national study, the American Association of University Women's Education Foundation used this definition:
    “Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with your life. Sexual harassment is not behaviors that you like or want (for example, wanted kissing, touching or flirting).”
    Then pollsters gave students — grades 8 through 11 — these examples:
    • Sexual comments, jokes, gestures or looks.
    • Showed, gave or left you sexual pictures, photographs, illustrations, messages or notes.
    • Wrote sexual messages/graffiti about you on bathroom walls, in locker rooms, etc.
    • Spread sexual rumors about you.
    • Said you were gay or lesbian.
    • Spied on you as you dressed or showered at school.
    • Flashed or “mooned” you.
    • Touched, grabbed or pinched you in a sexual way.
    • Intentionally brushed up against you in a sexual way.
    • Pulled at your clothing in a sexual way.
    • Pulled off or down your clothing.
    • Blocked your way or cornered you in a sexual way.
    • Forced you to kiss him/her.
    • Forced you to do something sexual other than kissing.
   Among findings, more than half of the students polled acknowledged being harassers and 14 percent said there were high levels of sexual harassment in their schools.
        Harris interviewed 2,064 students, either by questionnaire completed in English classes or on the Internet between Sept. 7 and Nov. 22.

        The firm, then known as Lou Harris and Associates, did a similar survey of 1,632 students for AAUW in 1993. After reviewing both surveys, AAUW said, “The next step is for parents, educators and activists to focus on changing the culture of harassment in schools and promot ing students' use of existing resources to address the problem.”

        At Kings Junior High School in Warren County, Principal Jim Acton said he encounters “five to 10” complaints of student-on-student sexual harassment each year.

Complaints from girls

        Most are valid, he said, and most are verbal. Most of the complaints come from girls and most of the offenders are boys among his 600 students. “They really don't think it's sexual harassment.”

        His approach is to counsel the tormenters, reminding them of what they were told during orientation, telling them why it is harassment, and warning them that a repeat will bring a suspension.

        That measured approach fits seventh- and eighth-graders who are “discovering what's appropriate and what's not appropriate,” Mr. Acton said.

        Physical harassment brings an immediate 10-day suspension as well as the lecture, he added, and it's rare that a teacher or other adult in the school is the harasser.

        In the report, some students said verbal and physical sexual harassment was no big deal, but others said it can have a corrosive effect on education:

        • 24 percent said they spoke up less in class after being harassed.

        • 22 percent said harassment was so severe they did not want to go to school.

        • 21 percent said they changed seats to get away from a harasser.

        • 20 percent said harassment made it harder to pay attention in class.

        Girls said they were more likely than boys to be harassed (83 percent versus 79 percent) in the study and that they were more fearful than boys of being targeted for sexual harassment (44 percent versus 20 percent).

Less harassing

        Girls also said they did less harassing than boys (50 percent to 57 percent).

        There also were racial/ethnic differences among the way boys harassed, the report said:

        • Whites led the pack in calling someone gay or lesbian or starting sexual rumors.

        • Hispanics and blacks were likelier to touch, grab, pinch or brush against someone in a sexual way.

        • Blacks were more likely to harass a girl than were whites or Hispanics.

        • Whites were more likely than blacks or Hispanics to target another boy.

        Coincidental with students' growing awareness of school policies was the decline from 1993 in reported sexual harassment by teachers or other adult school employees (44 percent to 38 percent).


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