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Study: Middle School Sex Harassment Widespread, Goes Unnoticed At School

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An alarming number of instances of inappropriate sexual behavior among middle school students appear to be going unnoticed by teachers and other adults, a new study concludes.

The study, written by three University of Illinois researchers, found that 21 percent of the students in the survey experienced some form of physical sexual harassment.

The students reported instances like being slapped on the buttocks, being rubbed against their bodies sexually or being forced to kiss another student.

Much of the behavior happened in open areas, most commonly in the hallways, classrooms or gymnasiums.

Additionally, about 19 percent of students said they were victims of rumour spreading, verbal sexual commentary or homophobic name-calling. For example, one student said "someone wrote on the bathroom stall that I was a skank."

The study by Sarah Rinehart, Namrata Doshi and Dorothy Espelage, examined survey responses of 1,391 students from four Midwest middle schools (grades 5-8). The survey sample was evenly split between boys and girls.

The researchers also noted that many of the students dismissed the behavior as joking or not that serious. Others said "that you get used to it" or "it doesn't really bother me any more."

That dismissive behavior is cause for concern, the researchers say.

It "seems indicative of a broader societal force to normalize and legitimize sexually violent acts," they wrote.

Students who are exposed to sexual violence--harassment, name calling or unwanted sexual touching--result in poor academic performance, increased rates of risky behavior, depression, anxiety and suicide.

'This study indicates that middle school youth have experienced a wide range of upsetting sexual violence experiences that seem to be unaddressed by adults in these schools," the study concluded.

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