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Boys Who Bully More Likely to Sexually Harass 2 Years Later

Boys Who Bully More Likely to Sexually Harass 2 Years Later

Middle-school boys who bully their peers are 4.6 times more likely to commit sexual harassment two years later, and those who participate in homophobic teasing are 1.6 times more likely to do the same, according to a new study by the University of Illinois and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study, in which researchers surveyed more than 970 students at six middle schools, supports the existence of a “bully-sexual violence pathway.”

Sexual harassment is defined in the study as the following: unwanted sexual commentary, sexual rumor spreading and unwanted touching. It is widespread among youth, say the researchers, and although girls are victimized most frequently, boys can be targets as well.

A large proportion of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth suffer from homophobic teasing and other forms of sexual harassment, as do other males who are perceived by peers as not conforming to traditional conceptions of heterosexual masculinity, the researchers said.

The researchers say that some bullies sexually harass their peers because they are insecure about their sexuality and feel a need to “prove” to peers that they are heterosexual.

The link between bullying and sexual harassment may represent a developmental pathway for some bullies and calls for stronger prevention and intervention efforts in schools, said Dr. Dorothy L. Espelage, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor of child development in the Department of Educational Psychology at Illinois.

Espelage, and her coauthors, Drs. Kathleen C. Basile and the late Merle E. Hamburger, both of the CDC, had previously proposed the existence of a bully-sexual violence pathway in a 2012 study.

“Prevention efforts should start in late elementary school and focus on the gender-based aggressive acts that typically precede sexual harassment, especially homophobic name-calling,” said Espelage, who is among the first researchers to investigate these problems in middle-school populations.

“School officials and parents are uncomfortable about addressing any topics related to sex and often choose to ignore the gender-based name-calling, sexual jokes, and other forms of sexual harassment, even though these behaviors are clearly unwanted and distressing to victims,” Espelage said.

“Most anti-bullying curricula don’t cover sexual victimization either, which implies to kids that these behaviors may be normal or OK. Normalizing or dismissing these behaviors creates a hostile environment and perpetuates the cycle of sexual aggression.”

Source: University of Illinois

Boys Who Bully More Likely to Sexually Harass 2 Years Later

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Boys Who Bully More Likely to Sexually Harass 2 Years Later. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.