Sexual Harassment in K-12 Schools: Precursor to Campus Sexual Assaults and Gender Violence

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault cites a CDC review that found an intervention program developed by a senior research scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women, and her colleague at NORC-University of Chicago, as an effective strategy with the greatest potential for reducing rates of sexual violence.

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Teens holding hands

I’ve been emphasizing for many years that K-12 schools are the training grounds for violence in relationships, as demonstrated by the public displays of sexual harassment and gender violence.

(PRWEB) May 09, 2014

“I’ve been emphasizing for many years that K-12 schools are the training grounds for violence in relationships, as demonstrated by the public displays of sexual harassment and gender violence,” says Nan Stein, Ed.D., a leading expert on the issue and a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She notes that while the numbers are distressing—with one in five women sexually assaulted in college—it’s not surprising when sexual harassment is a persistent and tenacious part of everyday life, in middle and high schools.

Responding to the growing attention to Title IX complaints related to gender violence and sexual assaults on college campuses, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault announced April 29, 2014 efforts to address this violence. Out of 140 intervention programs reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Task Force, only two—including one developed by Stein with Bruce Taylor, Ph.D. of NORC at the University of Chicago—were identified as effective strategies with the greatest potential for reducing rates of sexual violence, even though both interventions were designed and tested with younger adolescents. Stein and Taylor’s Shifting Boundaries project and Safe Dates, the other recognized intervention were not tested with—nor meant for—college students but it was nonetheless recommended in the CDC report that they may serve as models for developing college-level prevention strategies.

Shifting Boundaries, funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been implemented with the youngest sample (sixth and seventh graders) ever studied in a scientific, randomly controlled research project on teen dating violence. The intervention offers both school-wide and in-the-classroom interventions, emphasize articulating and claiming one’s boundaries and personal space; the data shows that the interventions are effective and is currently being expanded to eighth graders and testing for longitudinal effects. It was initially developed in 2005 by Stein and Taylor and used in middle schools in the Greater Cleveland area; since 2008, it has been implemented and studied in New York City middle schools.

“As we raise awareness about teen dating violence and offer scientific approaches to prevention,” Stein recently noted, “we must continue to invest in evidence-based and evaluated programs with rigorous research that inform truly effective public policies.”

The Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is one of the largest gender-focused research-and-action organizations in the world. Scholars at WCW conduct social science research and evaluation, develop theory and publications, and implement training programs on issues that put women’s lives and women’s concerns at the center. Since 1974, WCW’s work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy. Stein directs several national research projects in K-12 schools on sexual harassment, gender violence, teen dating violence, and Title IX; she has served as an expert witness in over a dozen federal lawsuits on sexual harassment and child sexual abuse in K-12 schools.


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