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Study Explores Sexual Violence in Middle School

By Ethan Levine, Ph.D. student and research assistant at Temple University

Sexual Violence in Middle SchoolBackground

This study focused on peer sexual violence among middle school students in New York City. Using surveys of approximately 1,400 students in 30 schools, I explored four questions:

  1. What is the prevalence of peer sexual violence among middle school students?
  2. How does gender affect victimization?
  3. How does gender affect perpetration?
  4. How does dating sexual violence among middle school students, and are the effects of dating different for girls and boys?

I emphasized gender and dating experience because these concepts are often central in prevention. For example, many programs focus specifically on dating violence and students’ experiences in relationships. It is also common for prevention specialists to challenge sexist attitudes and assumptions about gender roles.

Data and Methods

Data came from an evaluation of the Shifting Boundaries antiviolence program. I used freely available data from the pre-test phase. In other words, I only looked at students who had not yet received this intervention.

I defined sexual violence very broadly, encompassing any nonconsensual sexual touching among peers. To explore gender patterns, I looked at overall victimization and perpetration as well as incidents specifically involving male and female peers. I also examined whether students with dating experience – or those who had been in a relationship that lasted one week or more – reported different experiences. Finally, I added race/ethnicity, age, and any prior antiviolence training to my analysis.

Main Findings

  • 43% of boys and 34% of girls reported some form of sexual victimization
  • 12% of boys and 28% of girls reported victimization by boys; 35% of boys and 10% of girls reported victimization by girls
  • 20% of boys and 13% of girls reported some form of sexual perpetration
  • 6% of boys and 11% of girls reported perpetration by boys; 16% of boys and 10% of girls reported perpetration by girls
  • Dating experience, more than any other factor, increased students’ risk of sexual victimization and sexual aggression
  • Dating had different effects based on gender. Girls with dating experience were particularly likely to report victimization and perpetration in general, as well as incidents involving boys; boys with dating experience were particularly likely to report victimization by girls
  • Boys were more likely to report victimization and perpetration in general, as well as incidents involving girls
  • Students who had previously received antiviolence training were more likely to report perpetration and perpetration against girls
  • Older students reported more victimization, and more incidents involving girls
  • Black students were more likely than White students to report all forms of victimization and aggression

Major Takeaways for Providers

One of the takeaways from this research is that middle school students date, that they have sexual experiences and that they also experience peer sexual violence. Since dating was a major risk factor for victimization and aggression, it seems practical to incorporate sexual violence and dating violence within the same prevention programs for adolescents. It’s also important to note that this research documented multiple gendered patterns in sexual violence, including but not limited to boy’s aggression toward girls. Antiviolence specialists should work to ensure that programs are inclusive of male aggression, male victimization, female aggression, and female victimization.

Although race/ethnicity was not a major focus of this study, I found that Black students face a considerably higher risk of sexual violence than White students. This indicates that programs that presently emphasize sexism and promote gender equality might expand to address racism and promote racial equality. Visual aids, such as posters and films, should feature people of multiple races and ethnicities.

Primary Paper

“Sexual Violence Among Middle School Students: The Effects of Gender and Dating Experience”
2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(14): 2059-2082. DOI: 10.1177/0886260515590786


You can find out more about my research, and download some of my articles, on ResearchGate:

About Ethan Levine, Ph.D. candidate & research assistant, Temple University

Alternative Text

Ethan Levine is a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the Department of Sociology, Temple University.

Ethan Levine on the Web
More on: Child Mental Health Care, Research, Trauma
Latest update: July 26, 2017