Sexual harassment in education is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with a student’s ability to learn, study, work or participate in school activities. In the U.S., it is a form of discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sexual harassment involves a range of behavior from mild annoyances to sexual assault and rape. (AAUW 2002, 2006,Dzeich et al, 1990) See Sexual harassment: Varied behaviors and circumstances for examples.
Most sexual harassment is peer-peer, but sexual harassment by teachers and other school employees has also been reported. (AAUW 2002,2006) While sexual harassment is legally defined as "unwanted" behavior, many experts agree that even consensual sexual interactions between students and teachers constitutes harassment because the power differential creates a dynamic in which "mutual consent" is impossible. (Dzeich et al, 1990)
Sexual harassment and abuse of students by teachers
In their 2002 survey, the AAUW reported that, of students who had been harassed, 38% were harassed by teachers or other school employees. One survey, conducted with psychology students, reports that 10% had sexual interactions with their educators; in turn, 13% of educators reported sexual interaction with their students. In a survey of high school students, 14% reported that they had engaged in sexual intercourse with a teacher. (Wishnietsky, 1991) In a national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000. And in a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 10 percent of U.S. public school students have been targeted with sexual attention by school employees. Indeed, sexual harassment and abuse by teachers has been described as 100 times more frequent than abuse by priests.
In Japan, sexual harassment of students by teachers is so prevalent it has been given its own acronym--SHOC, for "Sexual Harassment on Campus."
Psychology and behaviors of teachers who sexually harass students
Most complaints about teachers' behavior tend to center around what is felt to be inappropriate talk in a class or discussion, such as using sexist or sexual references to make a point. However, some teachers can take things to a more extreme degree. Relationships between students and teachers can be often quite intimate and intense as they share common passions and interests. Students are dependent on their teachers' approval for academic success, opportunities, and later career success. They will talk about personal issues, such as problems at home, or with boyfriends/girlfriends. Such closeness and intimacy can blur the professional boundaries and lead people--both school employee and student alike--to step over the line. Martin writes,
"...teachers hold positions of trust. They are expected to design teaching programmes and carry out their teaching duties to help their students develop as mature thinkers. This may involve close working relationships in tutorials or laboratories, individual meetings to discuss projects or essays, and more casual occasions for intellectual give and take. For impressionable young students, the boundaries between intellectual development and personal life may become blurred. In this situation, some academics easily move from intellectual to personal to sexual relationships."
A teacher who harasses a student may be doing so because they are experiencing the stress from various personal problems or life traumas, such as marital trouble or divorce, professional crisis, financial difficulties, medical problems, or death of a spouse or child. The behavior can be a symptom of the effects of such stresses, and may stop if the situation changes, or the pressures are removed. (See Prekel, The Situational Harasser)