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Childrearing

Kids Aren’t Just Being Kids: Half Of 7th-12th Graders Are Sexually Harassed By Peers

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Kids Aren t Just Being Kids  Half Of 7th 12th Graders Are Sexually Harassed By Peers shutterstock 65108071 jpgIt wasn’t particularly shocking to me to read this morning that 48% of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment. I after all was a seventh grade girl once too, and although one of my strongest memories of junior high was perpetually fending off crude sexual advances from older boys, it was startling to me to read that administrators still aren’t doing anything about it.

While dress code was often used in my school to justify the abysmal way female students were treated, some new research has revealed that in-person harassment is just the tip of the contemporary iceberg. Today’s kids aren’t just grabbing at one another in the hallways or making inappropriate sexual comments in the lunchroom. They are also harassing other students electronically, via text messages, emails, and of course social media. Some kids are sent sexually explicit images, porn websites, and are bullied about their sexuality all across Facebook.

While some of the scenarios are old hat, the quotes by some kids demonstrate how advanced sexual harassment has become in our digital age:

The survey quoted one ninth-grade girl as saying she was called a whore “because I have many friends that are boys.”

A 12th-grade boy said schoolmates circulated an image showing his face attached to an animal having sex.

“I was sent a website to look up and I did and it was to a porn site. It was very upsetting to me,” a 7th-grade girl said, according to the report.

A 9th-grade boy said being called gay by other students made him “feel bad and I tried to get away anyway I could. I felt threatened for my personal safety.”

Being touched in an unwelcome, sexual way made a 10th-grade girl “feel sad and very scared.”

“An 8th-grade guy passed by me and said, really softly, ‘What’s up, sexy?’ and then kept on walking. It really creeped me out,” a 7th-grade girl told the authors of the report.

The pervasiveness of the sexual harassment is impacting the way kids are able to learn at school, as nearly a third of victims reported feeling sick to their stomach. The harassment also affected their study habits or made them reluctant to attend school at all because they felt so unsafe.

Considering bullying is so trendy in the news these days with even Lady Gaga throwing together an anti-bullying foundation, sexual harassment should not get lost in the discussion. Msnbc reports that sexual harassment as it interferes with a child’s education is prohibited under the federal gender-equality legislation known as Title IX. Yet, the report which uncovered this new sexual harassment data observes that “Too often, the more comfortable term bullying is used to describe sexual harassment, obscuring the role of gender and sex in these incidents.” The report notes that schools often “promote bullying prevention while ignoring or downplaying sexual harassment.”

Fatima Goss Graves, a vice-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington,  says that all student interactions that hinder the learning environment need to be addressed, not matter the context. She noted that “Schools get too caught up in the label.”

Niobe Way, a professor  at New York University who has studied adolescent relationships, suggested that school anti-harassment policies need to include more broader cultural changes and attempt to deconstruct gender stereotypes. She told msnbc:

“You have a culture that doesn’t value boys having close intimate relations and being emotional or empathetic.”

Discussing also the rampant gender stereotyping and sexism that pervades TV would also be a good measure, considering that kids are consuming these harmful themes in our media on a daily basis.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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