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Research by professor, team reveals sexual violence in school occurs early on

by Allie Bidwell / Apr 18, 2014

High number of middle school students experience sexual violence

Professor Dorothy Espelage and her team of researchers in the Department of Educational Psychology found that more than one in five children in middle school have experienced physical sexual violence. The findings were published in the article “Sexual Risk Taking and Bullying Among Adolescents,” which won the American Educational Research Association Division E Distinguished Research Award. News of the award-winning study was circulated nationwide by publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Medical Xpress, and The Huffington Post.

A sizeable amount of sexual violence in middle school occurs directly in front of teachers, according to a study, which also found that one in four middle school students said they have faced a form of sexual violence on middle school grounds in the past year, usually in the hallways or classrooms. Nearly 1,400 students were surveyed: 27 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys said they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment or violence.

Researchers said issues surrounding sexual violence should be addressed during early adolescence.

"We need to talk about homophobic language, educate boys and girls about sexual harassment in schools ... and follow up on incidents and make sure teachers intervene when they see it," said Espelage, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at the College. "It's a precursor to teen dating violence."

Espelage and her fellow researchers were most surprised by the frequency of sexual violence taking place in classrooms. She said it’s imperative that students have a clear understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.

“Bullying prevention programs need to be augmented with sexual harassment prevention and teen dating violence prevention,” she said.

A previous study conducted by Espelage and her team found that many school staff members did not know what constitutes sexual harassment and couldn’t clearly distinguish it from bullying.

Read the full article from U.S. News & World Report.