Sexual Harassment and School Safety: How Safe Do Students Feel?

    TORONTO, Feb. 6 /CNW/ - The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
(CAMH)'s Dr. David Wolfe has just released new research on school violence,
sexual harassment and bullying conducted at 23 schools in Southwestern
Ontario. This report is timely, considering the recently released report "The
Road to Health" by Julian Falconer and the School Community Safety Advisory
Panel highlighted the need to improve our understanding and appreciation of
these serious issues in order to address them in the most effective and
expeditious ways possible.
    CAMH's Centre for Prevention Science surveyed 1819 Grade 9 and 11
students in both rural and city schools between 2004 and 2007 to measure both
the victimization and perpetration of harassment and bullying and overall
school safety. The data collected and released in a report today shows some
cause for concern.
    When surveyed on sexual pressures, four percent of males in grade 11
admitted trying to force someone to have sex with them, while 10 percent of
males and 27 percent of females admitted being pressured into doing something
sexual that they did not want to. Not surprisingly, the data shows that girls
are feeling this pressure more than boys, with 15 percent reporting that they
had oral sex just to avoid having intercourse.
    In terms of sexual harassment in school, girls were much more likely to
report having received sexual comments, unwanted looks or touches, and having
parts of their body commented on or rated. In contrast, boys were much more
likely to report being called homophobic insults (such as "gay" or "fag") than
girls (e.g., "lezzie," "dyke"). Unfortunately, this pattern of homophobic
insults continued mostly unchanged from grade 9 (34 percent) to grade 11 (30
percent) for boys, but declined by almost half for girls, from 22 percent to
12 percent.
    Twenty-nine percent of grade nine girls and 33 percent of grade nine boys
reported feeling unsafe at school in the past month. "Going to high school
today is like running the gauntlet," said David Wolfe, principal investigator
and Director of CAMH's Centre for Prevention Science in London, Ontario. "Yet
the high school years are some of the most important in terms of development."
    According to the survey, 16 percent of girls and 32 percent of boys
reported being physically harmed (on or off school property), while ten
percent of girls and 25 percent of boys admit to being the perpetrators of
such violence. And in a trend that has emerged with the widespread use of the
web and social networking sites, 12 percent of males and 14 percent of females
reported being harassed over the Internet.
    "Adolescence is confusing enough, but when you couple this with peer
pressure and self esteem issues, some youth can be easily overwhelmed," said
Dr. Wolfe today. "This is a time of life when youth may first start to
experiment with drug use and sex - which can be difficult especially when you
consider that kids are just learning how to socialize with one another in a
more mature context."
    Dr. Wolfe cautions that the effect of what happens in high school today
can take a significant toll. "All these behaviours, from physical violence to
verbal harassment, can be harmful and have serious effects on their
well-being. Bullying and harassment are well known to affect an individual's
health and adjustment, including problems such as depression, substance use,
anxiety and academic failure," he said.
    "It is crucial that schools find ways to address these forms of abuse and
violence, so that youth feel safe at school. Students need to know that the
lines of communication are open and they can speak to school administrators
and parents about their problems. And we need to be open and honest with kids
and arm them with the necessary tools to make healthy decisions."
    Based on these and previous findings, the new report points out that
there is ample evidence to conclude that harassment and abuse are occurring at
high rates among high school students. Although many of these behaviours are
not as visible or extreme as other forms of violence, these acts of "everyday
violence" are likely to have significant impact on the lives of youth. While
some of these behaviours show a decline over the course of adolescence (such
as hitting others), it is clear that students worry about their safety
throughout high school.
    On a positive note, the researchers emphasize that many school boards
across the province are listening more to students and responding to their
concerns. Schools are playing a more active role in violence prevention and
promoting healthy relationships by implementing innovative school-based
programs and curricula as well as involving community professionals. Students,
parents and staff have to be partners in ensuring school safety. It's never
too early to start - many of these negative patterns begin in elementary
school, and the long-term solution will involve education that teaches
positive relationship skills and respect for others.
    "It's never too early to start - many of these negative patterns of
harassment begin in elementary school, and the long-term solution will involve
education that teaches positive relationship skills and respect for others,"
Dr. Wolfe added.

    The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest
mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's
leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH
combines clinical care, research, education, policy development, prevention
and health promotion to transform the lives of people affected by mental
health and addiction issues.
    CAMH is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization
Collaborating Centre, and is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

For further information:

For further information: or to schedule an interview, please contact
Michael Torres, Media Relations, CAMH at (416) 595-6015

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