Study: 1 in 7 Schoolgirls Sexually Harassed, Assaulted By Peers
“You’d also be hard-pressed to find a girl who hasn’t had her breasts or butt grabbed,” one respondent anonymously wrote in a comments section that followed an anonymous survey, conducted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), of more than 4,000 students in Canada. Part of its ongoing investigation into peer-on-peer violence, CBC’s survey was open to students between the ages of 14 and 21, and asked them questions about school-related physical and verbal abuse, as well as about sexual harassment and assault they might have faced at any time between kindergarten to Grade 12.
Fifteen percent of female respondents– that’s three in every 20 girls — reported having had a sexual act forced upon them as a minor by a peer. Further, 25% of female students reported being inappropriately touched by a peer while on school property. 9% of male students also reported being sexually assaulted by peers.
“That’s an appalling statistic,” Tracy Vaillancourt, a violence prevention expert at the University of Ottawa, said to CBC. “What concerns me is that people [will] dismiss this number … because they think it’s too high and that can’t be possible. And yet it is possible.”
But perhaps what is most striking about the survey’s results is how early students face unwanted sexual contact and sexual violence. By Grade 4, nearly one in 25 girls said they first experienced unwanted sexual touching from a peer. By Grade 7, the likelihood increased to nearly one in eight, and by Grade 9, it further increased to one in seven girls. “One respondent recalled seeing someone ‘lift up a girl’s shirt to show off her boobs in the cafeteria, and everyone laughed while she freaked out,'” CBC reports, while concluding that “the risk of unwanted sexual contact for the first time peaks between Grades 7 and 10, before declining in the final years of high school.”
“That’s the scary part,” Janice Kennedy, executive director of the Bay St. George Status of Women Council, which supports survivors of sexual violence, said to CBC. “Sex is such an intimate act, and for it to be forced and done against someone’s will, it really violates a person’s sense of trust, of what is safe and what is okay.”
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The Effects of Sexual Harassment on Teens
The CBC survey also asked students who had experienced sexual violence how often they reported the inappropriate acts to school officials. Three in five female respondents said they never did; of those who did, only a quarter was completely satisfied with how the school responded.
At the heart of this lies alarmingly lax sexual assault policies; CBC surveyed schools’ violence prevention policies in various provinces across Canada and found that many school boards simply lumped sexual violence with other forms of bullying, physical violence, and vandalism.
“It’s not like we just heard about school violence,” Vaillancourt said to CBC. “This is something that existed as long as we put kids together in groups. When you have clear sanctions and clear policy, you have a clear approach to dealing with it.” She further said the findings are significant because they reveal a dangerous disconnect: “What schools tell us is that they’ve got a handle on this. And now we have youth telling us anonymously that we don’t have a handle on it. … That disconnect is going to cause harm.”
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