Sexual harassment is common in middle school, according to research published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review. Although 43% of middle schoolers reported experiencing verbal sexual harassment, few bullying programs address this highly prevalent form of bullying.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), 28% of adolescents in grades 6-12 experience bullying, suggesting sexual harassment may be more common than traditional bullying.
Sexual Harassment in Middle School
The study followed 1,300 children in Illinois for five years, beginning in middle school. Verbal sexual harassment was the most prevalent form of harassment in the group. Twenty-one percent of students reported experiencing physical forms of sexual harassment, including sexual assault. Fourteen percent of students were victims of sexual rumors, and 9% had been the subject of sexual graffiti in locker rooms and bathrooms.
Sixteen percent of students reported homophobic harassment such as name-calling and jokes, and 5% said they frequently experienced this form of harassment.
Sexual Harassment and Bullying
Boys were significantly more likely to be sexual harassers, whether their targets were male or female. Boys who experienced sexual harassment often reported that the perpetrators were close friends. Harassment was most common in school hallways. Classrooms, locker rooms, gym class, and lunch rooms were also common sexual harassment locations.
The study highlights the role of sexual harassment in bullying, while pointing to the dearth of anti-sexual harassment training in most anti-bullying programs. The study’s authors say the dismissive attitude many students have toward sexual harassment is especially troubling and should be addressed by anti-bullying initiatives.
- Espelage, D. L., Hong, J. S., Rinehart, S., & Doshi, N. (2016). Understanding types, locations, & perpetrators of peer-to-peer sexual harassment in U.S. middle schools: A focus on sex, racial, and grade differences. Children and Youth Services Review, 71, 174-183. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.11.010
- Facts about bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/facts/#listing
- Sexual harassment common among middle school children, study finds. (2016, December 9). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161209184825.htm
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