National study finds sexual harassment pervasive

A national trend of student-on-student sexual harassment and bullying that is pervasive among middle schools and high schools across the country may be less likely in Dexter, school officials suggest.

During the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, e-mail and social media, according to a national survey released this month by the American Association of University Women, the Associated Press reports.

The harassers often thought they were being funny, however, nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fueled reluctance to go to school at all, according to the study.

Dexter High School Principal Kit Moran told that school administrators receive roughly 10-15 concerns from students each year, mostly related to bullying issues.

"Few of them actually turn out to be bullying episodes but are more often students making fun of others or saying things or giving them dirty looks," Moran said. "Any kind of bullying or name calling is taken seriously and addressed as soon as we become aware of the situation. This doesn't happen often but does occur occasionally. Most often, it is a freshmen and sophomore issue that fades away by the junior year."

Moran said the school rarely hears complaints of sexual harrassment.

"'Sexting' is serious and does not regularly occur in school," Moran said. "When we have complaints about any type of harassment, the Dexter Community Schools' Student Code of Conduct is our guide."

Moran said prior to the start of the 2011 school year, high school staff participated in a development program that focuses on how to identify students that may considering suicide as an outgrowth of bullying.

"Most of these inappropriate behaviors occur outside of the eyes of adults, so we have to rely often on student reporting," Moran said. "At Dexter, students are quite good at looking out for each other."

The AAUW survey was conducted in May and asked 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools nationwide whether they had experienced any of various forms of sexual harassment. Responses ranged from someone making unwelcomed sexual comments about a student to being called gay or lesbian in a negative way and being touched in an unwelcome sexual way.

"It's reached a level where it's almost a normal part of the school day," Catherine Hill, one of the report'co-authors, told the AP. "It's somewhat of a vicious cycle. The kids who are harassers often have been harassed themselves."

The study shows 56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.

According to the survey, after being harassed, half of the targeted students did nothing about it. Of the rest, some talked to parents or friends, but only 9 percent reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor or other adult at school. Reasons for not reporting included doubts it would have any impact, fears of making the situation worse and concerns about the staff member's reaction.

Jami Bronson, principal at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, said harrassment and bullying is taken seriously by building teachers and staff.

"We have not seen an increase in bullying in school, however we have noticed a great deal of bullying activity happening through Facebook that carries over into the schools," she said. "It is alarming at what kids post on Facebook or through texting."

Mill Creek Middle School is hosting a parent informational session from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday on cyberbullying.

Article provided by the Associated Press.