Sexual harassment of junior high and high school students is pervasive in the nation's public schools, a new national survey says.
Four of five students in eighth through 11th grades surveyed by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation have personally experienced bullying, teasing and touching entailed in sexual harassment. Eighteen percent are afraid of being hurt at school.
A large number of students 38 percent reported that teachers and other school employees sexually harass students. That's down from 44 percent in AAUW's previous survey in 1993.
"That is still a horrible percentage," said Sue Morgan, who becomes Lawrence school board president in July.
She said the incidence of sexual harassment in Lawrence schools didn't appear rampant. However, it's important for the public school district to impress upon students and employees that boundaries exist in terms of acceptable behavior.
"My observation is that, against this national standard, we're in pretty good shape," said Supt. Randy Weseman.
He said all district employees participated in staff training sessions on sexual harassment. School counselors work with students of all ages to help them understand the implications of harassment.
The district is in the final stage of adopting new harassment policies designed to discourage inappropriate behavior. The district didn't have a sexual harassment policy until the early 1990s, Weseman said.
Scott Morgan, a Lawrence school board member, said the survey made it clear that communities must work harder to root out sexual harassment.
The AAUW survey, "Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing and Sexual Harassment in Schools," found students to be forthcoming about their role in the problem.
Slightly more than half, or 54 percent, of students said they had sexually harassed someone during their school lives. That's a decline from 1993, when six in 10 students admitted sexually harassing someone.
One striking change since 1993 was an increase in the number of boys who experience school sexual harassment. In the new survey, 56 percent of boys said they had been sexual harassed compared to 49 percent in the earlier study.
Females are still more frequently targeted than males, 83 percent in the new survey and 79 percent in 1993.
AAUW sponsored the survey of 2,064 public school students in eighth through 11th grades. Interviews with students were conducted from September to November 2000.
For purposes of the survey, sexual harassment was defined as unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with a person's life.