Three-Fourths of Schools Report Zero Incidents of Sexual Harassment in Grades 7-12October 24, 2017
AAUW and other organizations have long been skeptical of schools’ low reporting rates when it comes to sexual harassment and bullying. AAUW recently revisited the 2013–14 data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to further examine differences in reported rates by state and differences in the rates at which girls and boys report sexual harassment. The analysis revealed that more than three-fourths (79 percent) of all public schools reported zero incidents of sexual harassment. If these numbers are accurate, 79 percent of schools have zero students coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment — despite many research reports providing evidence that this outcome is statistically impossible.
What the Data Reveal
AAUW’s analysis looked specifically at public schools with students in grades 7–12. These schools were selected in order to compare data with AAUW’s groundbreaking 2011 research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which analyzed data from a survey of students in the same age group. Crossing the Line found that nearly half (48 percent) of students surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past school year, with nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) of those students saying that the harassment had a negative impact on them.
While at a national level more than three-fourths of all schools reported zero incidents of sexual harassment, the rate of zero-reporting varied across states. For example, in Florida and Hawaii 98 percent of schools reported zero incidents of sexual harassment, but in Vermont only 46 percent of schools reported zero incidents.
The schools whose numbers of allegations AAUW analyzed reported about 47,400 sexual harassment incidents for which the demographic information of the target of the harassment was recorded. The CRDC found that only 0.17 percent of enrolled students reported experiencing sexual harassment, a number drastically lower than the 48 percent of students who reported experiencing sexual harassment in Crossing the Line. Of those reported incidents about 58 percent of targets of harassment were girls (27,700) even though they make up only 49 percent of the 28 million students enrolled at these schools. In the CRDC data about 0.20 percent of girls were recorded as targets of sexual harassment versus 0.14 percent of boys, making girls .06 percent more likely than boys to be the targets of harassment. The gender ratio of victims of reported school sexual harassment found by the CRDC is similar to the ratio reported in Crossing the Line, which stated that girls were 16 percent more likely than boys to be sexually harassed in grades 7–12.
Schools’ Reported Allegations of Sexual Harassment, by State
|Reported Allegations||Zero Allegations||Total Schools||Percent Zeroes|
|District of Columbia||13||82||95||86%|
What We Must Do
Harassment or bullying policies and a Title IX coordinator are both associated with a higher likelihood of students coming forward to report incidents of sexual harassment in schools. Sixty-seven percent of the local educational agencies (LEAs; usually a public school district or a public charter system) with a harassment or bullying policy had reported zero incidents of sexual harassment across all schools compared with 80 percent of LEAs without a policy. Similarly, 67 percent of LEAs with a Title IX coordinator reported zero incidents of sexual harassment across all schools compared with 80 percent of LEAs without a coordinator. In other words, schools that have Title IX coordinators and bullying and harassment policies are providing students with the resources and support they need to come forward, increasing the likelihood of reporting at higher rates. AAUW continues to call for rigorous enforcement of Title IX, which mandates that at a minimum schools have harassment or bullying policies and Title IX coordinators in place. Only with the full enforcement of Title IX will schools begin to provide full transparency so that students can receive equitable access to education.
Furthermore, states and the federal government must continue to ensure that Title IX coordinators receive the necessary funding and support to ensure schools are complying with the law and addressing sexual harassment. The Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA) of 2017, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), takes the necessary steps to provide more resources, training, and technical assistance to support gender equity work in our schools. Title IX coordinators provide critical leadership and support in ensuring equal opportunity in education for all students and it is time Congress supported their critical endeavors.
The reports of zero cases of sexual harassment doesn’t begin to tell the whole truth about what’s happening to one of our most vulnerable populations in public schools across the country, but it does tell us that we must work to change the school environment for students immediately. Use the above table to find out what percentage of schools in your state reported zero allegations of sexual harassment and tell your members of Congress to cosponsor the GEEA and strengthen Title IX.
At a time when the Department of Education has taken action to roll back Title IX protections for students, this legislation would help bolster Title IX.
Read more about AAUW’s analysis of data collection from schools.
Find out what students said when asked about sexual harassment in school.