Four of Five Schoolkids Experience Sexual Harassment
According to the survey, children said the three most disturbing forms of harassment were having sexual rumors spread about them, having clothing pulled down in a sexual way, and being called gay or lesbian.
"A lot of kids during adolescence are confused about their sexuality, so if you are being taunted about your sexual orientation, it can be particularly upsetting," Fassler says.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch group last week issued a report giving U.S. schools a "failing grade" in keeping gay and lesbian students safe. The group claims these students face more bullying than any other group in American high schools.
According to Fassler, surveys indicate that gay and lesbian adolescents are two and half times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight classmates.
As for solutions to school harassment, Chase says, "Every school needs a formal code of conduct. The code must be clearly communicated to every adult, student, and parent in the school." This code must be strictly enforced, he says, with harassment incidents "immediately confronted."
The most effective school programs "train all staff to spot offending behavior and intervene, from custodial staff and cafeteria workers, to secretaries and school bus drivers," he says.
The American Association of University Women says it is partnering with the National Education Association to set up a task force to address sexual harassment in schools. Nevertheless, Chase adds, "It's a societal problem. It should not be seen as only a school responsibility."
"Realistically, it's going to take us a whole generation to really change this behavior," Fassler tells WebMD. "We really need to start with kids in the earliest grades. We need to raise a whole generation of kids who just don't even think about engaging in this kind of behavior. Prevention and early intervention is much more effective than attempts to deal with the problems later on, once the behavior patterns have already been established."