Sexual Bullying: Its Impact and Origins
Sexuality is one of the last havens for prejudice in society, and so it's no surprise that much of the bullying our youth experience revolves around sexual issues. The topic of sexual bullying deserves some special attention, in part because it's generally the most common subject for bullying, and also because it's the one avenue of bullying that adults are the most responsible for creating. It can also be especially severe in nature. It tends to be relentless, and often escalates towards more severe attacks than other types of bullying. Most of all, sexual bullying is especially destructive. Quite literally, it can have life or death consequences for the youngsters who experience it. Whenever a gay youth kills themselves or a child who isn't gay ends their life after years of taunting about their sexuality, we all share responsibility for that death, because we've all helped create the environment that allows this prejudice to flourish.
This chapter will explore the scope of sexual bullying in Western society, and also outline how we as adults are responsible for the proliferation of this disturbing form of child abuse. We hope that readers will have the courage to approach this information with an open mind - challenging your assumptions and considering the evidence for the sake of making the world a less-hostile place for our kids. After all, if we don't start working towards fixing this problem, it might just be your child who is the next in line to die because of the sexual torment we encourage as a society. And children don't have to be members of a stigmatized group themselves to die from sexual prejudice. Heterosexual youth get caught up in sexual bullying just as often as those whose sexual orientation actually is different.
The prevalence of sexual harassment in schools
One survey by the Center for Children found that 40% of fifth- through eighth-graders say they have experienced sexual harassment by their peers. In another student survey, 81% admitted to being sexually harassed at school. The rate was about equal for boys and girls, with around half of the students admitting to sexually harassing someone else. Making matters worse and adding insult to injury, thirty-eight percent of youth said that teachers and other school employees sometimes participated in this harassment. (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, p. 99)
A more recent national survey of the 2010-2011 school year found that 48% of students in grades 7 to 12 experienced some form of sexual harassment that year, either in person or electronically. "It's reached a level where it's almost a normal part of the school day," says Catherine Hill, one of the reports co-authors. (Crary, 2011)
The scope of sexual bullying in Western culture