When Is Bullying Sexual Harassment?

By Barb Rickard

Cross-gender bullying-boys bullying girls and girls bullying boys-often includes sexual harassment. The incidence of this type of bullying increases as children reach adolescence, in part because boy-girl contact increases. But normal adolescent behaviors don't include sexual harassment, which can harm both the victim and the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment, whether cross- or same-gender, includes any type of sexual behavior that is unwanted by the victim. Sexual harassment can take many forms, including the following.

Sexual harassment is a widespread problem. According to a study of more than 1,600 students in grades eight through eleven conducted by the American Association of University Women, eighty-five percent of girls and seventy-six percent of boys reported being sexually harassed in school. The harassment was both physical and verbal, and it often occurred in front of teachers. Girls experienced sexual harassment more often than boys, and girls also felt more embarrassed and less confident about themselves as a result of this form of bullying.

Sexual Harassment or Flirting?

It's not difficult to tell the difference between harmless flirting and sexual harassment. Flirting is welcome attention that makes people feel good about themselves. Flirting is lighthearted, it is normal teenage behavior, and it is most often mutual. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, comprises actions that are unwanted and make recipients feel bad about themselves or dirty.

What to Do

If your child is being sexually harassed at school, there are several actions you can take to solve the problem.

Barbara Rickard holds a B.S. from Michigan Technological University and is the mother of three children. She has volunteered in the public schools for more than ten years, including four as a PTA board member.