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Swiss Study Found More Children are Being Sexually Harassed Online

Update Date: Oct 29, 2013 03:30 PM EDT

In a new study examining the role of the Internet in relation to sexual harassment, researchers from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich, the Psychosomatics and Psychiatry Department at Zurich's University Children's Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Zurich found that non-physical sexual harassment appears to be more frequent than previously believed.

For this study, the research team looked at over 6,000 students in the ninth grade. 40 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys stated that they have dealt with at least one form of sexual harassment in general They found that for these 15- to 17-year-old children, the most common form of sexual harassment occurred through the Internet. 28 percent of girls and almost 10 percent of boys reported being sexually harassed on the Internet within their lifetime.

The researchers found that the second most common form of harassment was through text or email. 15 percent of girls and five percent of boys stated that they were verbally harassed through these methods. Third on the list is sexual harassment involving kissing or touching that was not asked for. Nearly 12 percent of girls and four percent of boys reported being kissed or touched against their will. Last on the list of sexual harassment situations is sexual abuse with penetration, which includes vaginal, anal, oral or other. Around 2.5 percent of girls and 0.6 percent of boys admitted to being sexually harassed with penetration.

The researchers found that less than 50 percent of the girls and less than one-third of the boys who were victimized told someone. These teenagers tended to tell friends first with less than 20 percent telling their families and less than 10 percent reporting the event to the police. The team also found that as the severity of the type of sexual harassment increases, the percentage of the victims who will talk decreases.

When the researchers looked for the culprits, they found that the perpetrators were also juveniles that the victims knew. Over 50 percent of girls and over 70 percent of boys stated that they were sexually harassed by juveniles with the majority of them being peers, partners or acquaintances.  

"This new trend towards the majority being juvenile perpetrators, and being peers and acquaintances, is in contrast to the Geneva study, and might indicate increased violent behavior among adolescents", explained Dr. Ulrich Schnyder, Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Zurich. "Our results also differ considerably from official police reports, according to which perpetrators are usually adult, male relatives."

The researchers stated that due to increased media outlets, more children are being sexually harassed without physical contact. Even though physical contact was not a part of the harassment, the situation can still be highly detrimental for the victims. This study suggests that something needs to be done to protect adolescents. The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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