JOURNAL ARTICLE

Have you been sexually harassed in school? What female high school students regard as harassment

Eva Witkowska, Katja Gillander G├ądin
International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health 2005, 17 (4): 391-406
16445077
The aim of the study was to explore what behaviors experienced from peers and school staff at school are acknowledged as sexual harassment, and perceived as problematic, by female high school students, and what other factors may be relevant. Analyses were performed of responses (to 540 questionnaires) in an anonymous self-report mail survey from a random sample of female Swedish high-school students (59% response rate). Exposure to relevant behaviors, of varying levels of severity, alone, does not explain the acknowledgment of harassment. Many students were subjected to many of the potentially offensive behaviors without labeling them as sexual harassment, despite the fact that they saw many of them as problematic. Further, viewing the relevant behaviors as problems in one's school did not necessarily lead to acknowledging that sexual harassment in general was a problem. However, the behaviors seen as problems were less likely to be dismissed as sexual harassment than personal experiences. This was especially true of the most common behaviors, namely verbal ones. The results demonstrate female students' reluctance to label incidents as sexual harassment, despite the fact that actual behaviors are perceived as environmental problems. Potentially offensive sex-related behaviors become normalized in the school environment and are difficult to address, when little support is provided by schools.

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