Parents of middle schoolers get ready to cringe: A new study has found that sexual harassment not only exists in middle schools across the country; it's also more common than you might imagine.


The survey, conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUM) found that during the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person, via text or online.  


What's even more troubling is the effect this behavior has on the harassed students. According to the survey, even in instances where harassers proclaim to be just joking around, nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomachs, affected their study habits or made them reluctant to go to school.  


For the study, 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools nationwide completed an anonymous electronic survey.  Students without access to a computer were given a computer and Internet access for the duration of the study. The students were asked whether they had experienced any of various forms of sexual harassment such as being the target of unwelcome sexual comments, being called gay or lesbian in a negative way, being touched in an unwelcome sexual way, being shown sexual pictures they didn't want to see, and being the subject of unwelcome sexual rumors. Fifty-six percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys surveyed said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.

And what did the kids do about getting harassed? Half of the targeted students did nothing at all because they doubted it would have any impact or feared that it would make the situation worse. Of the remaining half, most talked to a parent or friends, while only 9 percent reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor or other adult at school. 


So what can be done about this prevalence of harassment? The survey asked students that same question and the majority favored systematic punishments for harassers as well as a method for reporting harassment anonymously.


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