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School Safety Topics

Sexual Harassment

Sexual victimization in schools is not limited to college campuses. Middle and high school students face very real threats, in the form of harassment, sexual assault and acquaintance rape.

Understanding the Issue

Sexual harassment and assault are unfortunate parts of school culture, affecting the educational experiences of millions of students, especially girls. Still, only a fraction of students who have been sexually victimized report the incident to a teacher or other adult at school. Many students told no one about their experience. All school staff should be trained to address sexual offenses against younger students, including how to recognize signs of abuse and trauma. This is also the perfect time to educate students about what constitutes sexual harassment and abuse and their own rights under the law.

  • What should teens know about sexual harassment?
    Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behavior. It may take different forms, including:
    • Physical contact, like grabbing, pinching, touching your breast or butt or other body parts, or kissing you against your will.
    • Sexual comments, like name-calling (slut, whore, fag), starting rumors about you, making sexual jokes at your expense, or making sexual gestures at or about you.
    • Sexual propositions, like asking you for sex or repeatedly asking you out when you have said no.
    • Be considerate of nearby yards, driveways, houses, buildings, and private property.
    • Unwanted communication, like phone calls, letters, or e-mails. These can be mean, nasty, or threatening, or they can seem flattering or nice but still make you uncomfortable.
    These are only examples; there may be other forms of behavior that are not listed here but still can be considered sexual harassment. Both the harasser and the victim can be either male or female, and they do not have to be the opposite sex. The harasser can be another teenager or an adult.

    Some flirting between kids is normal and healthy, but sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. The lists below can help you figure it out. (NOTE: An adult flirting with a kid is not normal or ok.)

    If you think you are flirting with someone, but they do not respond the way you want them to, consider this...  
    • If the person does not seem happy with your attention
    • if you flirt but they do not flirt back
    • if you make a sexual joke and they do not laugh
    • if the person seems to be avoiding you
    • might be making them uncomfortable. The bottom line is that if the person receiving your sexual or romantic attention doesn't want it and you continue, that's harassment and you should stop it.
  • If a teen has been sexually assaulted, what should she or he know?
    Being a victim of sexual assault is not your fault. Nothing in what you say, the way you look, where you are, or who you are with gives anyone else the right to hurt you. It does not matter if you are dating or have ever been intimate with the person who sexually assaulted you; it does not give that person the right to force you to participate in sexual acts if you don’t want to, even if you have had sexual activity of any sort with them in the past. It’s still wrong.
    • Seek immediate medical attention, preferably at an emergency room. Medical personnel are trained to perform a "rape kit" exam, where they are able to gather evidence while examining the victim to help police and prosecutors find and charge the perpetrator. If you might ever want to report the assault, it is important that you do not shower, change clothes, or clean up in any way before going to the hospital, in order not to disturb any evidence medical staff might be able to collect for the police. Sometimes this process can be easier if you have a trusted friend, adult, or victim advocate with you.
    • Even if you don't want to report the assault to police right now, it is still important to have a medical exam to make sure you are all right. Sometimes people change their minds and want to report to the police later. Also, in addition to treating injuries, medical personnel can test for pregnancy and whether or not you may have been drugged. They can also give you drugs to reduce your chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or getting pregnant.
    • Tell a trusted friend or adult. See if someone can go with you to get medical treatment.
    • Call a local victim service provider, such as a rape crisis center. You may be able to find a number to call in your local phone book. If you cannot find one, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. If you want to report the assault, call the police.
    • If you choose to tell, you should know that some adults are mandated reporters. This means they are legally required to report neglect or abuse to someone else, such as the police or child protective services. You can ask people if they are mandated reporters and then decide what you want to do. Some examples of mandated reporters are teachers, counselors, doctors, social workers, and in some cases, coaches or activity leaders.
    • If you want help deciding whom to talk to, call an anonymous crisis line in your area. You might also want to talk to a trusted family member, a friend’s parent, an adult neighbor or friend, an older sibling or cousin, or another experienced person who you trust.

      (Source: National Center for Victims of Crime)
  • How can teens protect themselves agains "date rape"?
    The best defense against date rape is to try to prevent it. Here are some things you can do:
    • Avoid secluded places when you're in the early stages of dating or just getting to know someone. Going someplace where you can't get help can be risky if you don't know the person you're with. That includes your room or the other person's. Wait until you trust your partner before going anywhere private or out of the way. Always be sure to have your cellphone fully charged so you can call for help.
    • Don't spend time alone with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. Always trust your instincts. If a situation doesn't feel right, get out.
    • Stay sober and aware. If you're with someone you don't know very well, stay aware of what's going on around you. Never drink something that has already been poured or opened, even if it's just a cola or an iced tea. Date rape drugs are more easily disguised in dark-colored drinks.
    • Be aware of your date's ability to agree to sex. You may be guilty of rape if the other person has been drinking, doing drugs, or is not in a condition to respond or react.
    • Be clear about what kind of relationship you want with the person. If you are not ready for hooking up, sex, or touching, or you're not sure, let the other person know.
    • Don't let peer pressure push you into something you don't want to do. "Everybody's doing it" is a myth. Most teens are not having sex, even if they are talking about it.
    • Go out with a group of friends and watch out for each other. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you feel threatened.
    • Take self-defense courses. These can build confidence and teach valuable physical techniques you can use to get away from an attacker.