A recent report from the Associated Press found some truly horrifying statistics about sexual violence in grades K-12.
The investigation explored state education records using federal crime data between 2011 and 2015. The AP uncovered a total of 17,000 official reports of student-on-student sexual violence in grades K-12 in those four years.
According to the research, among children in the K-12 age range, those between the ages of 10 and 14 (namely those in their middle school years) were the most likely to experience sexual violence. Only 5 percent of the sexual assaults detailed by the AP involved 5 and 6-year-olds. The percentage of sexual violence decreased as students hit high school.
The report tracked multiple types of sexual violence including rape, sodomy, forced oral sex and fondling. The most common form of sexual violence was “unwanted sexual fondling,” with nearly 80 percent of victims reported experiencing unwanted fondling.
According to the AP’s findings, approximately one in five students reported experiencing rape, sodomy or being penetrated with a foreign object. Rape victims skewed older at an average age of 14 1/2 years old, while sodomy victims were younger at 12 1/2 years old.
The AP spoke with Wilson Kenney, an Oregon psychologist who has developed student intervention programs for sexual violence, about why these assaults are so rampant in the K-12 range.
“Everyone feels like we don’t have a problem, and the reason they feel that way is they have their heads in the sand,” Kenney said. “Student-on-student sexual assaults live in the shadows compared to the attention paid to gun violence in schools, most notably the Newtown shooting. There’s no Sandy Hook for sexual misconduct. But I think the potential harm is great.”
As the AP noted, 17,000 reports of sexual violence in the K-12 grades is most likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how many offenses actually take place.
“[17,000] does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don’t track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence,” the report, authored by Robin McDowell, Reese Dunklin, Emily Schmall and Justin Pritchard, reads. “A number of academic estimates range sharply higher.”
The amount of sexual violence reports the AP found is just as disturbing as how often these offenses were mischaracterized by school administrators and staff as bullying and hazing.
Kristen Houser, the Chief Public Affairs Officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told HuffPost that there are multiple reasons why sexual violence is often mistaken for bullying.
“One reasons for this is that sexual violence is happening as part of a larger picture of bullying and hazing,” she explained. “There is actual bullying and hazing going on and I think it’s easy to sanitize the sexual violence that is a component of that by rolling it into the larger picture of bullying.”
It really gets to a much broader issue that the general public doesn't understand the issue of sexual violence. Kristen Houser, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the NSVRC
While some media outlets pointed to preserving a school’s reputation as a reason administrators might excuse sexual violence as bullying, Houser said it’s more complicated than that.
“You certainly have administrators who are worried about not wanting to have their school in the news or tagged, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s always driven by an intentional attempt to mislead the community about what’s happened at the school,” she said.
“It really gets to a much broader issue that the general public ― and school administrators are people in the general public ― doesn’t understand the issue of sexual violence or perpetration, they don’t understand how it works. We still think it’s other people who we would know or associate with. When you get into youthful offending it’s very difficult for people to accept that children or teenagers would be involved in this behavior.”
Houser went on to explain that most people in the general public don’t know the facts when it comes to sexual violence: Most people who perpetrate sexual violence as adults begin these patterns as children; and approximately half of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by other children.
School administrators and staff need to be pro-active when sexual violence occurs in schools, Houser said.
“We really want people to look at this report, take it seriously and recognize that schools have an obligation to maintain safe learning environments under Title IX, just like universities do,” she said. “There are reasons to do it for liability measures, but ultimately, administrators and teachers need to be reminding the school that getting intervention and looking at consequences is a help to both the victim and the perpetrator.”
Head over to the AP to read the full report.