Since there is limited research comparing the prevalence and impact of both school bullying and sexual harassment within a single sample, the current study investigated 1) the prevalence of bullying compared with sexual harassment in high school and how prevalence differs across gender, grade, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; 2) how bullying is associated with student well-being indicators compared with sexual harassment; and 3) the association of a single experience of sexual harassment with student distress.
A statewide survey of 85,750 students (Grades 9–12) in 322 high schools reported how many times in the past school year they had experienced various types of bullying and sexual harassment. Participants also reported on their mental health, risk behaviors, academic achievement, student engagement, and feelings of safety. The study found that sexual harassment was slightly more prevalent than bullying, but both demonstrated meaningful associations with student well-being indicators. Even a single experience of sexual harassment was associated with higher student distress, with experiences of sexual rumors being the most distressing. Based on its findings, the study advises that researchers should be aware that bullying and sexual harassment are prevalent in schools and associated with adverse well-being indicators. Attention to either alone would not yield an adequate assessment of adolescent victimization experiences, and prevention efforts should consider both forms of aggression to provide safer, healthier learning environments for students. (publisher abstract modified)
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