Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School
A 2011 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School,” surveyed 1,965 U.S. male and female students in grades 7 to 12 in May and June of 2011. The survey identified patterns of sexual harassment in schools along gender, ethnic and demographic lines, examined digital harassment on Facebook or through text or email, and explored the educational and emotional impact on victims.
Key study findings include:
- Almost half (48%) of all students in grades 7 to 12 — 56% of girls and 40% of boys — experienced some form of sexual harassment during the 2010-11 academic year. Of these, 44% encountered sexual harassment in person, while 30% reported being harassed via texting, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.
- The most common forms of harassment were unwelcome sexual comments or gestures (33%), derogatory gay or lesbian slurs (18%) and unwanted exposure to sexualized imagery (13%). Girls experienced significantly more unwelcome comments, inappropriate physical contact, and physical intimation than did boys.
- Only 16% of those surveyed admitted that they had sexually harassed others. The majority of male harassers (72%) said that they had sexually harassed a male student; less than one-fifth (19%) said they had sexually harassed a female student. Reasons given for harassment included “it’s just part of school life/it’s no big deal” (44%), “I thought it was funny” (39%), and “I was being stupid” (34%).
- Survey respondents thought that the groups most vulnerable to sexual harassment were: more physically mature girls (58%); non-masculine boys (37%); girls considered pretty (41%); girls not considered pretty (32%); and overweight students (30%).
- “Notably, African American students were more likely than their white counterparts to stop doing an activity or sport, get into trouble at school, and find it hard to study because of sexual harassment. Hispanic students were more likely than white students to stay home from school because of sexual harassment.”
- Fifty percent of students — 44% of girls and 59% of boys — said that they did nothing to address instances of sexual harassment they viewed. When asked about approaches to addressing sexual harassment, survey respondents supported creating ways for students to report incidents anonymously (57%), establishing and implementing consistent punishments for harassers (51%), and appointing a teacher or counselor as a contact person for reporting incidences of harassment (39%).
The study’s authors suggest that “prevention efforts need to address when humor crosses the line and becomes sexual harassment. Moreover, for some students, understanding that sexual harassment can indeed be a big deal for other students is a necessary first step.” The report concludes with a series of recommendations for parents, students, teachers and community groups to prevent sexual harassment and how to respond most effectively when it manifests.
Tags: African-American, Latino, gay issues, sex crimes, youth
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the American Association of University Women study titled “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.”
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Washington Post blog post titled “Sexual Harassment in Schools: A ‘Big Deal’.”
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.