School Administrators

Teen sexual violence

In the U.S., more than half of all reported sexual assaults occur in persons aged 12 - 24, with adolescents aged 12 to 17 accounting for one in five of all SA reports.  A recent study reported that 40% of both middle and high school boys said they had been sexually harassed; about 25% reported being sexually assaulted; and 3% reported rape.  Girls aged 16 - 19 (and women aged 20 -  24) are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in any other age group.  And while there is greater recognition of the growing number of teen sexual violence victims, there is limited understanding of the unique needs of teen victims.

The stakes are very high for teen victims. Sexual violence has been linked to greater rates of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, anxiety and depression.  One study found that 86% of sexual assaults against adolescents are unreported to law enforcement. During a critical time in the development of any young person, many teen victims are left trying to navigate the difficult path of healing alone.

Teen dating violence and bullying prevention curricula leave sexual violence unaddressed

Teen Dating Violence and Teen Sexual Violence: Is there a difference?

Yes. A recent U.S. Department of Justice study of teen sexual violence victims found that approximately 76% of perpetrators were brief acquaintances, distant relatives and strangers.  Yet despite the overwhelming data that perpetrators are not intimate partners, teen sexual violence continues to be largely defined as dating violence. Survivors, as well as national statistics, point to a reality for teen sexual violence victims where their attackers are not romantically linked to them, but are their classmates, coworkers, neighbors or friends. 

Addressing teen sexual violence (from prevention to services) as dating violence means that programs will not address the circumstances where most sexual violence occurs.  This leaves the majority of teen sexual violence victims with their needs unmet. And prevention efforts likely to fail.

Bullying and Sexual Violence:  Is there a difference ?

Researchers Nan Stein and Dorothy Espelage are studying the overlap between youth who bully and youth who sexually harass other youth.  They report that for boys, 85% of the sexual harassment perpetration is not related to bullying factors.  For girls, 75% of sexual harassment that they perpetrate is not related to bullying factors.  This means that curricula that are designed to stop bullying behaviors might not have an impact on sexual violence perpetration. 

Suggestions to move forward


1. Provide schools with information about resources in their communities that might be able to provide trainings on sexual violence prevention and services, such as their community’s Rape Crisis Center.

2. Curricula for workshops can be downloaded for free from the BARCC website that are appropriate for middle and high school students and could be taught by experienced school staff. FLASH is another good curriculum developed by the King County health department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed the Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool to help school administrators evaluate sexual health curriculum.

3. Publicize the availability of legal representation for victims of sexual assault or rape provided to victims statewide and free of charge by the Victim Rights Law Center.

School personnel

Training can be provided by Rape Crisis Centers in the school’s community. It should include:

  • An introduction to the dynamics of sexual violence so that personnel have a realistic view of the perpetration of sexual violence rather than relying on media for information.
  • Responding appropriately to disclosures from victims of sexual violence, including building skills in referring victims for appropriate counseling and legal advocacy services.  Youth who wait more than four weeks to tell someone about their sexual assault experience are more than twice as likely as those who disclose sooner to have a major depressive episode.
  • Responding to student sexual behaviors that are inappropriate in a school setting, including name-calling, comments, touching, and assault.  All school personnel should be involved in creating a safe learning environment for the students.
  • The legal obligations of the schools when a complaint of inappropriate conduct is made.

Policy Development and Revision

1. Policies will need to clearly delineate the different responses that are legally required for certain behaviors.  School administrators will need to differentiate behaviors that are bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and teen dating violence and understand how the different laws are to be applied.  The Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights has issued a Letter to Colleague to help clarify these distinctions.

2. School personnel will need to receive training from school administrators to help them to implement the policies correctly.

Kilpatrick DG. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Charleston, SC: National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center; 1992.
Young AM, Grey M, and Boyd, CJ.  Adolescents’ Experiences of Sexual Assault by Peers: Prevalence and Nature of Victimization Occuring Within and Outside of School.  J Youth Adolescence (2009) 38: 1072-83.
Rickert VI, Weimann CM. Date rape among adolescents and young adults. J. Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol 1998, 11: 167-175, 14: 495-500.
Danielson CK, Holmes MM. Adolescent sexual assault: an update of the literature. 2004.
Kilpatrick DG. Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications. Washington, D.C. (National Institute of Justice, April 2003) 5, 6.
Broman-Fulks,Joshua J.  Sexual assault disclosure in relation to adolescent mental health: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 2007 v36 i2, p260-266.

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