WASHINGTON - Four out of five U.S. students --
both boys and girls -- complain of sexual harassment at school
from verbal taunts to unwanted touching, according to a report
released on Wednesday.
The study by the American Association of University Women
(AAUW) Educational Foundation, said despite a zero-tolerance
policy in most schools, students faced sexual harassment both
in words and actions, often right under a teacher's nose.
``Sexual harassment is part of everyday life for boys and
girls at school,'' said Jacqueline Woods, executive director of
the AAUW, an advocacy group pushing for equity in education for
women and girls.
Most of the students surveyed said their school had a
policy about harassment compared to just a quarter in a 1993
AAUW study. However, this ``sea change'' in policy had not
translated into fewer incidents.
``Parents, teachers and administrators need to do a better
job educating our children on what is and what isn't
appropriate,'' said Woods.
The report, called ``Hostile Hallways II, Bullying, Teasing
and Sexual Harassment in School'', was based on a survey of
2,064 public school students between 8th and 11th grades. The
margin of error for the survey is plus or minus five percent.
It found 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys had
suffered harassment of one form or another, roughly the same
number reported in the 1993 survey.
Of the students, 76 percent experienced nonphysical
harassment, such as taunts, rumors, graffiti, jokes or
gestures, while 58 percent endured physical harassment.
Students were given a definition of sexual harassment as
''unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with
your life.'' It did not include behaviors they might welcome,
such as ``wanted kissing, flirting or touching.''
Girls were more likely to be report being negatively
affected by harassment than boys, with 44 percent of girls
feeling ``self-conscious'' against 19 percent of boys because of
an unpleasant incident.
Girls were more likely to change their behavior in school
and at home because of the experience, including not talking as
much in class (30 percent to 18 percent) and avoiding the
person who harassed them (56 percent to 24 percent).
Girls were consistently more likely to say they would be
''very upset'' by all 14 examples of nonphysical and physical
harassment presented to them, from spreading sexual rumors
about them to pulling off their clothing in a sexual way.
However, both boys and girls were ``very upset'' over taunts
on their sexuality and being labeled gay or lesbian, with 74
percent of boys and 73 percent of girls feeling this way.
``This response is disturbing as it points to the area of
homophobia in schools,'' said Pamela Haag, the foundation's
director of research.
The foundation said the survey proved the problem of
classroom harassment could not be shrugged off as normal
pre-teen and teen-age behavior.
Haag said there was a ``code of silence'' among students who
were reluctant to report an incident to a teacher or another
adult for fear of recrimination from their peers.
The National Education Association, which represents about
2.6 million teachers, said it planned to form a task force with
the AAUW to address sexual harassment in schools by training
adults to intervene effectively to stop the problem.
``For children who are constantly picked on, ridiculed or
harassed, school becomes torture,'' said NEA president Bob Chase
in a statement.
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