Comparing the Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment Victimization on the Mental and Physical Health of Adolescents

Abstract

A sample of 522 middle and high school students from a school district in a northeastern state in the U.S. was used to address two questions about bullying and sexual harassment: Is one more frequent than the other, and are there gender or sexual orientation differences in this regard? And, does one have greater adverse health effects than the other, and, if so, for whom? Bullying occurred more frequently than sexual harassment for both girls and boys but not among sexual minorities. Girls were bullied or harassed as frequently as boys, but sexual minorities experienced higher levels of both. Compared to bullying, sexual harassment had adverse effects on more health outcomes. These adverse effects were especially notable among girls and sexual minorities.

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Correspondence to James E. Gruber.

Appendix

Appendix

Variable Measurement

Bullying

During this school year, have one or more students at school… (Never, A few times, Many times)

  • Upset you for the fun of it.

  • Scared you.

  • Teased you

  • Picked on you.

  • Made fun of you.

  • Called you names.

  • Got in a physical fight with you.

  • Pushed, shoved, slapped, or kicked you.

  • Threatened to hurt or hit you.

  • Excluded you from your group of friends.

Sexual Harassment

During this school year, have one or more students at school done any of these things that you did not want them to do. (Never, A few times, Many times)

  • Touched, grabbed or pinched you in a sexual way.

  • Cornered you in a sexual way.

  • Spread sexual rumors about you.

  • Made sexual jokes about you.

  • Made sexual gestures or looks at you.

  • Showed, gave, or left you sexual pictures, messages, or notes

  • Wrote sexual messages about you on bathroom walls, locker rooms, or classroom blackboards.

  • Called you gay or lesbian or a name like fag or dyke.

  • Spied on you as you showered or dressed at school.

  • Flashed or mooned you.

  • Pressured you for a date.

  • Pulled your clothing off or down.

  • Kissed or hugged you when you did not want it.

  • Listed you in a “slam book” with sexual remarks about you.

Sexual Orientation

What is your sexual orientation?

  • Heterosexual or straight

  • Gay or lesbian

  • Bisexual

  • Not sure

Self Esteem

How well does each statement describe you? (A lot, A little, Not at all)

  • I feel positive about myself.

  • I am satisfied with myself.

  • I have a number of good qualities.

  • I am able to do things as well as most other people.

Mental Health

During the past week, how often did you feel the following? (Never, Sometimes, Often)

  • Successful

  • Pleased with yourself

  • Confident

  • Lonely

  • Sad

  • Felt like crying

Physical Health

How often during the past 7 days have you experienced any of the problems listed below? (None, 1–2 days, 3 days or more)

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Trouble going to sleep

  • Upset stomach or stomach ache

  • Vomiting of feeling sick to your stomach

  • Trouble with nerves

Trauma Symptoms

Below is a list of comments made by people in response to stressful experiences. Please check each item, indicating how frequently these comments were true for the experience [Respondent’s description of bullying or sexual harassment experience that was the most upsetting] you described above. (Not at all, Rarely, Sometimes, Often)

  • I thought about it when I didn’t mean to.

  • I tried to remove it from my memory.

  • I had waves of strong feelings about it.

  • I stayed away from reminders of it.

  • I tried not to talk about it.

  • Pictures of it popped into my mind.

  • Other things kept making me think of it.

  • I tried not to think about it.

Stressful Life Events

Please tell us a little bit about your life during the past year. Listed below are a number of life events, both positive and negative… If you experienced an event in the last 12 months, rate the event in terms of the impact it had on you. (Extremely negative, Very negative, Slightly negative, No impact, Slightly positive, Very positive, Extremely positive.

  • Parents divorced

  • Found a new group of friends

  • Stole something valuable

  • Given medication by physician

  • Family member died

  • Changed schools

  • Decided about college

  • Broke up with girl/boy friend

  • Thought about suicide

  • Was victim of a crime

  • Got poor grades in school

  • Family moved

  • Parents remarried

  • Had a serious accident or illness

  • Got in trouble with the law

  • Increase in size of household

  • Fell in love

  • Started seeing a therapist

  • Started dating regularly

  • Family had money problems

  • Got in trouble in school

  • Started making own money

  • Ran away from home

  • Got pregnant or made someone pregnant

  • Parents argued or fought

  • Gained or lost a lot of weight

School Stress

What is school like for you most of the time? (Not at all, A little bit, Moderately, Quite a bit, Extremely)

  • I find school hectic.

  • I find school tense.

  • I find school fun.

  • I find school relaxing.

  • I find school exciting.

  • I find school stressful.

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Gruber, J.E., Fineran, S. Comparing the Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment Victimization on the Mental and Physical Health of Adolescents. Sex Roles 59, 1 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9431-5

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Keywords

  • Sexual harassment
  • Bullying
  • Adolescents
  • Health
  • Gender differences