Impact of Sexual Harassment Victimization by Peers on Subsequent Adolescent Victimization and Adjustment: A Longitudinal Study



      To examine gender differences in prevalence and types of sexual harassment victimization experienced in grade 9 and how it contributes to relationship victimization and psychological adjustment 2.5 years later.


      A total of 1734 students from 23 schools completed self-report surveys at entry to grade 9 and end of grade 11. Self-report data were collected on victimization experiences (sexual harassment, physical dating violence, peer violence, and relational victimization) and adjustment (emotional distress, problem substance use, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, maladaptive dieting, feeling unsafe at school, and perpetration of violent delinquency). Separate analyses by sex were prespecified.


      Sexual harassment victimization was common among boys (42.4%) and girls (44.1%) in grade 9, with girls reporting more sexual jokes, comments, and unwanted touch than among boys, and with boys reporting more homosexual slurs or receiving unwanted sexual content. For girls, sexual harassment victimization in grade 9 was associated with elevated risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, maladaptive dieting, early dating, substance use, and feeling unsafe at school. A similar pattern of risk was found for boys, with the exception of dieting and self-harm behaviors. Adjusted odds ratios (AOR) indicated these students were significantly more likely than nonharassed students to report victimization by peers and dating partners 2.5 years later (AOR for boys and girls, respectively; all p < .01), including sexual harassment (AOR: 2.45; 2.9), physical dating violence (AOR: 2.02; 3.73), and physical peer violence (AOR: 2.75; 2.79). Gr 9 sexual harassment also contributed significantly to emotional distress (AOR: 2.09; 2.24), problem substance use (AOR: 1.79; 2.04), and violent delinquency perpetration (AOR: 2.1; 3.34) 2.5 years later (boys and girls, respectively; all p < .01).


      Sexual harassment at the beginning of high school is a strong predictor of future victimization by peers and dating partners for both girls and boys, and warrants greater prevention and intervention efforts.


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