BY ANNIE BOGGS
A depressing new study shows that sexual harassment starts at a disturbingly early age — middle and high school. The American Association of University Women’s report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, shows that harassment is widespread in grades 7-12 for our nation’s students. According to the study summary:
Sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools. Nearly half (48 percent) of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students (87 percent) said it had a negative effect on them.
Unsurprisingly, the harassment had gendered implications. Girls were more likely than boys to experience harassment and be negatively affected by the harassment. Boys were more likely than girls be the harasser. Comments like “That’s so gay” contributed to a culture at school where students who didn’t follow gender norms were especially targeted. (I think this antiquated sentiment needs to be retired already!)
With statistics such as these, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But perhaps we should take these numbers as a call to action and start teaching students early that this is not OK behavior. According to one of the authors of the report, Holly Kearl, in this New York Times piece, an open dialogue in schools about sexual harassment (what it is and how to react to it) is helpful in reducing it.
This seems like an easy step to take. Teenagers should know: this is not acceptable or “just part of the school day” in middle or high school, like so many young people are led to believe. Internalizing harassment as normal behavior for young people leads to similar (and worse) behavior later in life. Hollaback! and let your schools and communities know that this is never OK.
P.S. Here is some helpful, specific information on what to do if you’re being harassed in a school setting.