Nearly Half of Students Say They’re Sexually Harassed at School

Nearly half of seventh  to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment at school last year, according to a survey released today by the American Association of University Women. Most of them said the harassment had taken a toll on their productivity in school.

The report surveyed 1,965 students in May and June 2011, and found that more than 56 percent of girls reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment compared with 40 percent of boys. Sexual harassment included anything from unwelcome sexual comments and jokes to physical gestures.

According to the findings, the most common form of harassment boys experienced was being called  ”gay.” “I was told I was gay because of the way I had dressed for a school spirit week event,” one eighth grade boy said.

“Everyone was saying I was gay, and I felt the need to have to run away and hide,” a ninth grade boy wrote.

The survey did not ask students to report how often they were harassed within the school year. But, according to Holly Kearl, co-author of the report, the finding that only 9 percent of students reported harassment to an adult suggests it  is a larger problem than previously believed.

“When we talk about sexual harassment, many people want to think about it as an adult problem,” said Kearl. “But this is happening to 12-year-olds.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Kearl, who called for programs that include all school members, including parents and administrators. “There needs to be a climate of prevention from all sides.”