- The National Center for Educations Statistics' (NCES) annual "Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools" report reveals 5.2% of the 2,762 K-12 schools completing the survey for 2017-18 reported at least one incident of sexual assault other than rape, compared with 3.4% in 2015-16, Education Week reports.
- While the number of reported sexual assaults other than rape increased significantly, from roughly 6,100 in the 2015-16 school year to roughly 7,100 in the 2017-18 school year, the number of reported rapes or attempted rapes did not increase. As a result, researchers are unsure if the increased number of sexual assaults reported is due to an actual increase in the number of incidents or an increase in reporting in the wake of increased understanding and awareness of what constitutes sexual assault in the wake of the "#MeToo" movement.
- Some advocacy groups like the American Association of University Women, however, feel incidents of sexual assault are still under-reported, as some school officials still lack the training or the will to distinguish sexual violence or bullying from reports of bullying in general.
Though the #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the issue of sexual harassment, especially in colleges and the workplace, the issue is also a growing factor in K-12 education.
While some instances of sexual assault clearly go unreported, the AP found 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults at schools from the school years beginning in 2011 and ending in 2015. Some of the assaults that happen at schools are caused by teachers or staff, but roughly 20% of educators also suffer sexual harassment or assaults.
While sexual harassment and assault is a growing problem at K-12 schools, it is also a good place to teach proper behavior and responses. Most states have policies regarding teaching sex education, though less than half require the teaching of sexual consent. Though it is not required by all states, this teaching is not prohibited and should be an important part of any sex education discussion.
Sex education also needs to begin early enough, whether it comes from parents or the school district, to be proactive. While many school districts consider middle school the appropriate age for sex education to begin, some advocates think limited discussions should begin even earlier — especially as the age of puberty is dropping.
Teachers and administrators also need education about sexual harassment so they are prepared to deal with the increase in reporting, regardless of the cause. Clear understanding of the difference between bullying and sexual harassment and assault can better equip educators to deal appropriately with the issue, explain the difference to students, and support students in coming forward with their experiences.
Federally funded schools are also subject to Title IX regulations, which need to be clearly understood by teachers and administrators so reports of sexual harassment and assault are handled appropriately. Though there are concerns that the U.S. Department of Education may be weakening these regulations under the current administration, those regulations are still in place to help protect vulnerable students.
Administrators charged with handling Title IX situations need proper training in the complex issues surrounding them, as mishandling allegations can lead to serious consequences. Schools can be sued for not protecting students, for placing students in harm’s way, or for handling complaints improperly. They can also be reported to the Department of Education for violations of Title IX and can lose federal funding consequently, though that action is rarely enforced.