Understanding types, locations, & perpetrators of peer-to-peer sexual harassment in U.S. middle schools: A focus on sex, racial, and grade differences

Dorothy L. Espelage, Jun Sung Hong, Sarah Rinehart, Namrata Doshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study employed a mixed-method design to examine sexual harassment victimization among American middle school youth (grades 5–8). Students completed a self-report measure of sexual harassment victimization and indicated where sexual harassment occurs in their school. They responded to open-ended questions about the most upsetting incident they experienced and identified characteristics of perpetrators (N = 858). Verbal victimization (e.g., unwanted sexual commentary and homophobic name-calling) was more frequent than physical victimization and sexual assault. The types of sexual harassment experienced and the perpetrators varied by sex, race, and grade level. Sexual harassment occurred most frequently in hallways, followed by classrooms, gym locker rooms, gym class, lunch room, and outside of the school. The most upsetting unwanted incidents included (1) verbal - homophobic language; (2) verbal - sexual commentary and sexual rumor spreading; (3) physical – being touched; (4) pulling down pants; (5) being sexually assaulted; and (6) dismissiveness of victimization. Girls reported other boys as perpetrators; whereas, boys reported their perpetrators as other boys and close friends. For African-American students, perpetrators were identified as older and romantic partners. For White students, perpetrators were reported as same-age peers and friends. Understanding and recognizing what constitutes sexual harassment and where it most commonly occurs among early adolescence is critical to preventing sexual harassment into late adolescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-183
Number of pages10
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Volume71
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Early adolescents
  • Middle school
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual harassment
  • Victimization

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