Significant majority of teens sexually harassed, report finds

Calls for improved sex education in schools but researchers warns that issue is a societal problem

The report examined the prevalence of sexual harassment among people aged 13-17 and found that girls were subjected to a higher level of sexual harassment than boys. Image: iStock.

The report examined the prevalence of sexual harassment among people aged 13-17 and found that girls were subjected to a higher level of sexual harassment than boys. Image: iStock.

 

Eight in 10 young people who particpated in new research published by the Rape Crisis Network said they had been subjected to some form of sexual harassment.

More than one in five teenage participants said they were subjected to physical or extreme forms of sexual harassment, with 3 per cent reporting that they had been raped.

The report examined the prevalence of sexual harassment among people aged 13-17 and found that girls were subjected to a higher level of sexual harassment than boys.

The report was based on Dr Michelle Walsh’s PhD, which contained data from 599 questionnaires completed by teenagers, interviews with 93 adolescents, and interviews with 21 youth workers.

One of the male participants said he and his friends “targeted” the drunkest girl at the party, according to Dr Walsh. A female participant said they had to rescue a drunk friend at a house party because a group of boys had spoken about “taking turns” with her.

“Five per cent of young people said they had witnessed one of their peers being seriously sexually assaulted. That is a shocking figure,” said Dr Walsh at the report’s launch.

Teenagers who were members of the LGBTQ+ community were more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment than those who were heterosexual, and those aged 16-17 were sexually harassed far more than those aged 13-15, it finds.

Sex education

The report said that social norms, gender inequality, and a lack of “adequate and comprehensive” Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) are contributing to the prevalence of sexual harassment among young people.

Harrowing first-hand accounts in the report detail a lack of understanding of consent among teenagers.

“So, he brought me away from the playground where everyone was, and he started trying to touch me,” said one participant. “Then I pushed him off me and he kept pushing me back to him. Then I pushed him away and I started crying and he was like ‘your friend told me you wanted to do this’.”

The report says the vast majority of teenagers perpetrating the sexual harassment were boys.

All the youth workers who took part in the study said they had witnessed some form of sexual harassment while at work. Almost one in six experienced sexual harassment from adolescents they had worked with, and some had to stop working with certain groups because the harassment was so severe.

“I actually had to cancel two groups because of being harassed myself,” said one youth worker. “At the time of one of the groups I was actually pregnant, there was a lot of comments of ‘How often did I have sex with my husband to get pregnant?’ Would I ‘have sex with them in the bathroom’.”

Consent education is needed from primary school onwards, according to Dr Walsh. She said the young people she spoke to did not think that pornography was part of the problem.

“In terms of consent, adolescents don’t understand when they are watching porn that consent has happened first [off camera]. It colours their world view as to what is normal in a relationship.”

Societal problem

Dr Walsh added that the majority of teenagers she spoke to wanted comprehensive sex education, but schools were not providing it. However, she warned that sexual harassment is a problem at a societal level that schools alone could not fix.

There has also been an increase in teachers being sexually harassed by students in the past few years, according to Diarmaid de Paor, deputy general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI).

“Major resources are needed... there needs to be whole-school training, and the school’s culture has to change,” he said at the launch of the research.