Study: More than half of high school girls report sexual harassment

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain told reporters in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday that sexual harassment is a serious issue, and a serious charge -- one he is not guilty of, despite increasing accusations from women who worked for the National Restaurant Association when Cain was CEO of the organization.

So how serious of an issue is sexual harassment in this country? The same day as Cain's latest press conference, the American Association of University Women released results of a national study (PDF) showing more than half of students in grades 7 through 12 report experiencing some form of sexual harassment.

The study included nearly 1,965 students in high schools across the country, conducted in May and June 2011. In this study, the researchers used the definition from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights:

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.

Some of the findings:

  • 48 percent of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment; 87 percent of those students said it had a negative effect on them.
  • 56 percent of girls reported being sexually harassed, vs. 40 percent of boys.
  • 30 percent of students were affected by text, email, Facebook; many of those who reported being harassed virtually were also sexually harassed in person.
  • 18 percent of girls and boys reported being called gay or lesbian in a negative way.
  • 13 percent of girls reported being touched in an "unwelcome sexual way."
  • 9 percent reported being physically intimidated in a sexual way.
  • 4 percent reported being "forced to do something sexual."
  • 9 percent of students (12 percent of girls, 5 percent of boys) who claim to have been sexually harassed reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor or other adult at school; 27 percent of students said they talked about the incident to parents or family, and 23 percent said they spoke about it with friends.
  • 22 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys reported having trouble sleeping as a direct result of being sexually harassed; 37 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys reported not wanting to go to school after the sexual harassment.