Three in 10 Students Have Been Sexually Harassed via Social Media, Other Electronic Means

The proportion of students who have been sexually harassed via social media, text, or email is lower than the proportion harassed in person, according to a new survey of 1,965 students in grades 7-12 conducted by the American Association of University Women in May-June 2011 -- but it’s still alarmingly high. Thirty percent of students said they have been sexually harassed via electronic channels, compared to 44% experiencing harassment in person.

Overall, 48% of teenagers surveyed by AAUW said they experienced some kind of harassment at school during the past year. Girls were generally more likely to be harassed than boys: 52% of girls reported being harassed in person, versus 35% of boys, and 36% of girls reported being harassed via electronic channels, versus 24% of boys. Students who experienced electronic harassment were much more likely to experience in-person harassment as well.

On one hand, the rise in electronic harassment is probably inevitable, considering the ubiquity of social media, email, texting, and other electronic channels in the teenage demographic. Citing previous studies, AAUW noted that by 2008 93% of teenagers were online, and spent more time using media than doing any other single activity besides sleeping. In 2008, 20%-40% of teens ages 12-17 had experienced some form of cyber-bullying.

However, electronic media do have specific qualities that make them especially well-suited to cyber-bullying: “Anonymity, instantaneousness, the ability to escalate quickly, and intrusiveness are features of the Internet and social media that can enable or increase bullying and sexual harassment. A lack of specific physical locale may also convince bullies or harassers that they are beyond the school’s legal reach -- as they sometimes are.”

While electronic channels clearly play a role in harassment and bullying, they may form part of the solution as well: 22% of students recommended providing online resources to help victims combat these negative behaviors. But it’s also worth noting this suggestion is way down the wish list from other, more commonsense suggestions like allowing students to anonymously report problems (57%) and enforcing sexual harassment policies and punishing harassers (51%).

Wow, those kids are really thinking outside the box!  Enforcing the rules -- who ever woulda thought?

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