The Associated Press (AP) recently finished a year-long investigation of state education records and federal crime data to better understand sexual assault by fellow students. The AP uncovered approximately 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. The AP’s investigation is the most comprehensive compilation of its kind to date, but it does not fully depict the issue because schools are not federally mandated to report student-on-student sexual assault – Many instances go unreported, some states don’t track assaults and classifications of sexual violence are not consistent. Even so, the findings are unsettling.
The AP wrote an article about the investigation’s findings and the following excerpt paints a disturbing image of the issue at hand:
“Ranging from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling, the sexual violence that AP tracked often was mischaracterized as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior. It occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms. No type of school was immune, whether it be in an upper-class suburb, an inner-city neighborhood or a blue-collar farm town.”
Some other key statistics stood out:
- Approximately 5 percent of the sexual violence involved 5- and 6-year-olds. This increased significantly between ages 10 and 11 and continued rising until age 14.
- Student-on-student sexual assaults were far more common than those committed by teachers. For every adult-on-child sexual assault reported on school property, there were seven assaults by students.
Schools are meant to be safe places for students to learn, but student-on-student assault impedes this mission. What can schools do to help ensure this issue is being addressed?
- Train students and their families how to properly report all incidents of sexual assault
- Create an easy-to-access and use reporting mechanism to ensure all incidents are properly recorded and addressed
- Train teachers what to do if students verbally report incidents of sexual assault
- Train administrators how to investigate sexual assault, including when to involve law enforcement
- Clearly define levels of sexual assault and disseminate the information to teachers and parents
By raising awareness about the issue, administrators will create a school culture where safety comes first, sexual assault will not be tolerated and victims feel supported when they report an incident.