According to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois, there is an epidemic of sexual harassment and even assault in US middle schools that has affected more than one in five students between fifth and eighth grade.
The study has found that 21 percent of middle school students surveyed have experienced some form of physical sexual harassment. According to students that were interviewed, they have been rubbed up against sexually, forced to kiss another student, or being slapped on the rear. In total, 27 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys say they have experienced physical or verbal sexual harassment or violence.
Students report that these incidents are most common in hallways and gym class.
Students also say that the behavior often gets dismissed as a joke. Researchers say students replied with “you get used to it” or “it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”
Sarah Rinehart, Dorothy Espelage, and Namrata Doshi, the authors of the study, wrote “It’s a cause of concern that these youth are at such a young age dismissive of behaviors that are clearly distressing. It seems indicative of a broader societal force to normalize and legitimize sexually violent acts. This study indicated that middle school youth have experienced a wide range of upsetting sexual violence experience that seems to be unaddressed by adults in these schools.”
The study also notes that students who are exposed to this type of behavior are more predisposed to risky behavior, decline in academic performance, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
Espelage tells reporters that “Schools need to go beyond just putting a sexual harassment policy in a handbook and having parents and students sign off on it. It’s a shame the [Department of Education] has to threaten them in some ways. A school could have public funds pulled and be put under investigation. It’s a shame you have to pull that card.”