Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 1929–1939 | Cite as

A Qualitative Investigation of Gang Presence and Sexual Harassment in a Middle School

  • Anjali J. Forber-PrattEmail author
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
Original Paper


Our goal with this qualitative case study was to explore the relationship between gang membership/presence of gangs in a middle school on the experiences of sexual harassment from the perspectives of both bullies and victims. This study sought to explore the characteristics of sexual harassment taking place in one middle school with a gang presence, the relationship of gang membership/presence to the types of sexual harassment experienced or witnessed, and student perceptions of the influence of gangs on sexual harassment. Thompson Middle School enrolls approximately 440 students. The surrounding community has more than 20 gangs with 2000 known gang members. Data were collected from 10 student interviews and unstructured observations from researcher field notes to capture experiences from one middle school. Analysis was performed using a modified van Kaam approach. Resulting themes centered on what students knew about sexual harassment, the types of sexual harassment they witnessed at their school, and reasons why they thought sexual harassment was occurring with such frequency. Sexual harassment appears to be heightened when there is a gang presence and visible gang activity. Incidents appear to happen more in the ‘open’ rather than hidden. The pressure to give into sexual advances by gang members appears to be especially heightened for girls. The types of sexual harassment acts described by the students as highly invasive with many classified as same-sex acts as initiated by the gang members. Sexual harassment prevention programs in schools with a gang presence need to incorporate discussions related to gang influence.


Perpetration School climate Youth violence Qualitative Case study 


Author Contributions

A.F.P.: conducted the qualitative analyses and wrote the results and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. D.L.E.: designed and executed the study, provided input with the data analyses, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.


This research was supported by Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, CDC Cooperative Agreement (#1U01/CE001677) to Dorothy L. Espelage (PI). The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. of Human & Organizational DevelopmentVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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