Boulder, CO-A new study shows that an average of one in four middle schools students experience physical and verbal sexual harassment on school grounds. And, equally as troubling, those students normalize to the behavior.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 1,400 students from four Midwestern schools about whether they has experienced sexual harassment. The survey sample was split evenly among boys and girls.

Twenty-seven percent of girls and 25 percent of boys said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment which can include unwanted touching or inappropriate sexual comments, according to CBS News.

Physical sexual harassment was more common and reported among 21.6 percent of students. Physical harassment included groping, being rubbed up against sexually or being forced to kiss another student. Verbal sexual harassment was also common with some students reporting name-calling, comments about sexual orientation.

Researchers also wanted to find out where the incidents of harassment occurred most frequently and found that the majority of incidents, 22.7 percent occurred in hallways, followed by classrooms (21 percent), gymnasiums and at lockers.

Researchers were surprised to find out that harassment occurred in the classroom where teachers are present.
Equally as troubling as how often sexual harassment occurred is the fact that the respondents were dismissive about the behavior.

“It is a cause of concern that these youth are at such a young age dismissive of behaviors that are clearly distressing,” the study says.

But researchers believe students were dismissive about sexual harassment in part because their teachers were also dismissive. A study from last year conducted by the same researchers found that teachers had a casual attitude towards sexual harassment, with some claiming students should expect it based on how they behave or dress, U.S. News reported. This could be a possible explanation for the dismissive attitude among school students but the researchers noted that teachers don’t see everything that happens in the classroom.

“We didn’t ask them to talk about how normal sexual harassment was,” researcher Dorothy Espelage explained to U.S. News. “We asked them the most upsetting event … and they would almost undo it as if [to say], ‘But that’s just joking.’”

Students who are sexually harassed whether they are in middle school, high school or college are adversely affected by sexual harassment even if they are dismissive about the behavior. Grades often suffer, harassed students miss more days from school and can be plagued with depression and anxiety.

The researchers recommend that teachers be taught to better identify sexual harassment so they can address the behavior when they witness it.

Teens, too, face sexual harassment, but many of them encounter this inappropriate behavior in their after school jobs. And sexual harassment is the type of behavior that spills over into college and the adult workplace with half of adult women admitting they have been sexually harassed at least once in in their college or working lives. An adult can turn to a sexual harassment attorney when faced with this behavior, but young people may not be aware of how to stop sexual harassment.