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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Sexual harassment prevalent in U.S. schools, report says

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Sexual harassment is rife in the nation's schools despite a greater awareness of policies dealing with the issue, according to a national report released today.

Four of five students say they have experienced some type of sexual harassment in school, according to the report, "Hostile Hallways," by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

"While students say they are aware of school policies dealing with sexual harassment, increased awareness has not translated into fewer incidents of sexual harassment in school life," said AAUW Executive Director Jacqueline Woods.

The Hawai'i Department of Education does not gather statistics specifically on bullying or sexual harassment, although incidents are included in harassment reports. Those show 1,128 cases of harassment statewide during the 1999-2000 school year, up from 895 the previous year.

It's difficult to say why the numbers have increased, said Joanne Swearingen, who monitors discipline issues for the department.

"It may be better record keeping or, I hate to say it, an increase among the schools in this area," she said.

The department also reported 44 sexual offenses in the last school year. That largely includes cases of unwanted touching or indecent exposure, such as students pulling down their pants or "mooning," Swearingen said.

The Hostile Hallways report, based on a national survey of 2,064 students in eighth through 11th grades, found that much of the harassment occurs in front of teachers.

And the report calls for a better effort from parents, teachers and administrators to educate children on what is and isn't appropriate.

National attention on the issue has increased significantly since experts found that the students involved in school shootings such as the one at Columbine High School all had been bullied, teased and harassed.

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., was shaken by an attack that left 12 students, a teacher and the two gunmen — also students — dead.

If bullying is left unchecked, it can have long-lasting effects, according to Ruth Tschumy, coordinator of the Hawai'i Schools Safety Consortium.

"Bullies have a much higher incidence of future arrests, and the bullied has a much higher incidence of health problems," Tschumy said.

Although the report found that many students accept harassment as just part of school life, it also reveals that students can respond by avoiding certain parts of campus or staying away from school altogether. Others report losing their appetite, having difficulty paying attention in school or not talking in class.

Hawai'i already has stepped up its efforts to combat bullying.

The Board of Education last year approved a rewrite of its anti-harassment rule to include language prohibiting students from harassing others based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

And many schools already are using effective programs, Tschumy said.

"I think schools really are beginning to see that bullying is not just 'kids being kids' behavior," she said.