Sexual harassment is a common problem with severe consequences for both the individual and society. Sexual harassment is defined as improper words and actions with a sexual dimension that the recipient experience as unwelcome or unwanted.
There is a lack of systematic research studies that focus on sexual harassment during this critical period in children’s lives, from late childhood to adolescence. This limits our knowledge of the extent of the problem, its consequences, and of what may contribute to solving the problem of sexual harassment.
The research project PRISE (Peer Relations In School from an Ecological perspective) investigates peer relations in school among children who develop into adolescents over the course of the project, focusing specifically on sexual harassment.
During the first three years of the PRISE-project, around 1000 children and 60 teachers participated by filling out a yearly questionnaire in Swedish grade 4, 5 and 6. In the project we investigate biological factors (pubertal development), psychosocial factors (such as resilience, body esteem and peer relations) and contextual factors (such as school belonging and social norms), and their potential relationships to sexual harassment and its consequences. School data have been collected that describe schools in terms of their efforts to prevent harassment and report incidents of harassment. A pilot study has also been conducted that investigated whether sexual harassment in Swedish middle schools can be prevented.
Recently, the PRISE-project was expanded to also investigate development during Swedish grade 7, 8 and 9. In the extended PRISE-project, we will continue to follow those who participated in the first three years of the project. We investigate questions that concern how sexual harassment develops over the transition between childhood and adolescence. Based on findings in the first three years of the project, we investigate the development of early adolescents’ emotional well-being in relation to experiences of sexual harassment. We also investigate whether earlier experiences of sexual harassment develop into other forms of sexual aggression in adolescence, and what the consequences of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual aggression are for adolescents. Other questions concern protective factors.
The PRISE-project has the potential to increase the currently limited knowledge that exists about sexual harassment in pre-adolescent children, which is a critically important period in their biological, social and sexual development. By extending the project, the project also has the potential to shed light on the impact of earlier experiences of sexual harassment/aggression on development during the formative years of early adolescence. Our hope is that knowledge produced in PRISE will help researchers, politicians, and practitioners understand how, when, and why sexual harassment develops from late childhood into early adolescence. Based on this understanding, we hope to contribute to a better relational climate among children and adolescents.
- Therése Skoog
- Carolina Lunde
- Kristina Holmqvist Gattario
- Andrea Valik
- Aziz-Kaan Dönmez