During the 2010-11 school year, 48% of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically, according to a new national survey, writes Martin E. Klimek at USA Today.
The American Association of University Women's new survey shows that an "epidemic" of student-on-student sexual harassment is as pervasive in the USA's middle schools and high schools as ever.
"It's reached a level where it's almost a normal part of the school day," says one of the report's co-authors, Catherine Hill, AAUW director of research.
The survey consists of information gleamed from interviews with 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools whether they had experienced any of various forms of sexual harassment.
The report notes that harassment and bullying sometimes overlap – having someone make unwelcome sexual comments, being called gay or lesbian in a negative way, being touched in an unwelcome sexual way, being shown sexual pictures they didn't want to see, and being the subject of unwelcome sexual rumors.
There are some state laws against bullying, but serious sexual harassment that interferes with a student's education is prohibited under the federal gender-equality legislation known as Title IX.
"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 says.
"Schools are likely to promote bullying prevention while ignoring or downplaying sexual harassment."
Fatima Goss Graves, vice president of the National Women's Law Center, says the ultimate goal should be to deter any hurtful student interactions.
"Schools get too caught up in the label. If it's the sort of conduct that's interfering with a student's performance, it ought to be stopped."