Article

Eisert, D., & Jensen, M. K. (2003). Victimization of Girls in American Society.

Introduction


Victimization of girls and women is an ongoing problem in our society. Despite the advances women have made in the workplace, in education and in economic development, there is a growing sector of girls and women who are isolated from these successes and who have difficulty accessing necessary information and services. Without these services, the children they bear and raise are likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and victimization (Ainsworth, Blehar et al, 1978; Main, 1999).

Violence and harassment are continuous problems in schools and in the community, yet adults often view it as a rite of passage, and harmless, or they feel helpless to intervene (Stein, 1995). Most girls who are involved with juvenile justice report ongoing assault, domestic violence or abuse in their home and community. Some girls even choose to be arrested, finding the juvenile justice system a safe haven away from the abuse. Violence against women can often be subtle and covert, as when a partner prevents a girl from having access to the phone or isolates her from friends. The following are quotes from girls about their experiences with harassment and dating violence:

"I'm big chested. Many guys make sexual comments about my body -- with the guys'
comments, it makes me feel uncomfortable."

"I was in a two year relationship with a guy who would grab and push me. We aren't together anymore, and I am glad because I had a really low self-esteem. I wish there would have been a way to get away from him sooner."

"Guys around here force girls to do things they don't want to do. And especially when they're on drugs or alcohol. Rape is a big deal, and we need to have a class on it."

"I think more schools should be required to have some sort of group in the school for people who are beat, sexually abused, etc. I think that would help a lot (Like a Women's Resource Center)."

--Oregon high school students in grades 9-12 (Oregon Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2001)

Long-term effects of victimization                                                                                       


We live in a society rife with beliefs and images that degrade and brutalize women. A popular video game awards extra points to players who rape and then beat a prostitute. Music videos feature fully dressed men surrounded by numerous highly sexualized and nearly nude women. Popular media offers limited and formulaic images of women and girls that look remarkably doll-likestraight long hair (preferably blond), full pouty lips, big eyes and a busty chest atop a remarkably otherwise boyish figure. Is it any wonder, then, that 76 percent of boys and 56 percent of girls surveyed believed that forced sex was acceptable under some conditions?

In contemporary society, girls and young women are often the victims of numerous forms of harassment and violence:
&Mac183; One in five teen girls is physically or sexually abused by someone they're dating (Silverman J.G., Raj, Mucci, & Hathaway, 2001).
&Mac183; One in every four women in the U.S. will be raped or the victim of an attempted rape by the time they are in their mid-twenties (Makepeace, 1986).
&Mac183; Women are six times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner (Bachman, 1995).
For many girls, victimization begins during the teenage years and can have enormous consequences. Victimization can create severe and long-lasting mental health (e.g. depression, anxiety, and eating disorders) and physical health issues (including substance abuse, early and unplanned pregnancy, transmission of STD's including HIV/AIDS), decreased academic outcome, reduced economic gain and increased use of social and governmental services (Violence against women, 2000); victimization is strongly correlated to the development of delinquent and antisocial behavior (Dishion, French, & Patterson, 1995; Finkelhor & Hashima, 2001; Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989; Reid & Patterson, 1989). Even those girls who are not directly affected by violence, suffer the effects of violence. Aziz (2000) found that for students living in violent communities, more than 90 percent witnessed aggressive violence. Girls who witnessed violence experienced much higher rates of psychological distress than did boys.

Bullying                                                                                                                              

Bullying is a serious problem that can dramatically affect the ability of students to progress academically and socially. Bullying consists of both direct (taunting, threatening, hitting and stealing) and indirect behaviors (rumors, social isolation and ostracism, etc.). While girls can engage in both types of bullying behaviors, they by and large participate more in indirect forms of bullying (Banks, 1997; Galen & Underwood, 1997; Olweus & Pellegrini, 1996; Paquette & Underwood, 1999). Youth who are victims of bullying may become anxious, insecure and suffer from low self-esteem. A strong correlation appears to exist between bullying other students during the school years and experiencing legal or criminal troubles as adults. In addition, being bullied leads to depression and low self-esteem. (Banks, 1997).

Owens, Slee & Shute (2000) investigated the effects of indirect bullying on teen girls. They found that while girls often downplayed the severity of the bullying, many victims experienced a range of negative psychological effects including anxiety, loss of self-esteem, depression and even thoughts of suicide. Students who felt bullied also had decreased school attendance and poorer school achievement (Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000).

Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Harassment often differs in scope and nature between middle and high school. During middle school, male-female harassment (as compared to same-gender harassment) increases from grades six to eight, when girls are the most psychologically and emotionally vulnerable point, at their entry to puberty (McMaster, Connolly, Pepler, & Craig, 2002). Harassment and sexual harassment is pervasive in high school and is associated with psychosocial problems for both victims and perpetrators (McMaster et al., 2002). Figures on the incidence of sexual harassment vary. Fineran & Bennett (1998) report that almost 80 percent of adolescents experience sexual harassment from their peers. More than one in five high school girls in Oregon report receiving unwanted sexual attention or comments, and almost as many report having been touched sexually without consent. As grade level increases, unwanted sexual touching also increases (Grossman & Kerner, 1998; Oregon Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2001). Adolescent women who experience repeat sexual harassment are more likely attempt suicide (Bagley, Bolitho, & Bertrand, 1997). Harassed gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are at high-risk for drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, prostitution, homelessness and poor academic performance (Grossman & Kerner, 1998).

Dating and Sexual Violence                                                                                                       


The prevalence of teen dating violence is estimated to range from 9 to 60 percent, including verbal, physical and sexual violence. Female teens receive more significant physical injuries and are more likely to be sexually victimized (Cohall, R. & Cohall H. 1999). Silverman and colleagues (2001) found that one in five female studentsregardless of race or ethnicity--reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Girls who have experienced such violence are at a much greater risk of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, eating disorders and suicide attempt. In 2001, Lane County teens had the highest suicide attempt rate in the state (Oregon Department of Human Services, Center for Health Statistics, 2001). The incidence of violence extends across all racial groups.

In Oregon, almost one out of every ten 9-12th grade girls reports at least one instance of forced sexual intercourse. As grade level increases, the number of students reporting forced sexual intercourse also increased (Oregon Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2001). Black and Latina young women were significantly more likely to have been physically hurt by a boyfriend and to have been forced to have sexual intercourse than young white women ("Youth risk behavior surveillance," 1999; 2000). Of girls who reported experiences of physical or sexual abuse or date rape, 29 percent told no one about the abuse (Associates, 1997). Almost 25 percent of students, while perhaps not themselves victims, know someone at their school who was physically hit by their dating partner. 40 percent have seen a classmate verbally insult a boyfriend or girlfriend in a hurtful way (Program, 2001). Stein (1995) notes that sexual harassment and bullying are commonplace in schools and public arenas, and there is a need for training of students and teachers and intervention by adults in order to reduce its power and cost to individuals and institutions.

Absence of services                                                                                                                   


Violence prevention services exist in our communities, but often are presented independently, without recognizing the continuum of violence and the need for training, integration and implementation across settings. Some programs are designed for only one group while ignoring the unique needs of other groups. For example the needs of youth with disabilities, gay and lesbian youth, as well as youth of color need to be seen as part of the violence continuum. Furthermore, these programs are drastically under-funded, inaccessible in some rural areas and need a stronger coalition for collaboration, advocacy, networking and building community resources. Violence prevention activities will benefit more children and adolescents if they are built into a continuum of services, and are provided in the context of adults who are supportive, trained and resourceful.

To optimize their impact within schools, violence prevention activities should be comprised of several characteristics: institutional support at the school level, provision of an interdisciplinary team to guide and implement the approach, student involvement, training of teachers and peer leaders, community links and parent information. Delivery mechanisms should also utilize an interdisciplinary long-term approach that employs a range of teaching methodologies and covers diverse content including the range groups that are affected by gendered violence (e.g., gays and lesbians and people with disabilities). These necessary components provide the mechanism for moving from an isolated to a systemic approach to violence prevention (Hanson, 2002). SOAR will address each of these needs.

Need to reduce prevalence or seriousness of victimization

There is an urgent need for intervention to reduce the prevalence and seriousness of victimization and violence. Victimization experiences often have profoundly negative mental and physical health outcomes, including substance abuse, early sexual activity and pregnancy, long-lasting mental health issues and reliance on government social service programs. Prevention and early intervention activities have the potential to reduce long-term use of mental health treatment, substance abuse intervention and social service programs, to improve the lives of females and to move the culture toward a more peaceful model of interaction and relationships. Substantial service gaps exist, and programs are inadequately evaluated.

Approximate numbers of youth, geographic distribution                                                               

Across the state of Oregon, the minority student population is increasing, with over 20 percent of students being of ethnic minority (Oregon Department of Education, 2002). Minority populations are increasing exponentially, particularly in the earlier grades. In Lane County, while the number of minority students is increasing at a rate faster than the state, schools and service providers are unprepared to meet the needs of these diverse groups (Martinez, Eddy & DeGarmo, 2001). Indeed, there are schools in Lane and Linn counties whose minority population is over 150 percent the states' average (Oregon Department of Education, 2002). Despite this growth, percentages of diverse youth are small in some areas. The small numbers of students in each minority group are likely to make the girls feel more isolated from the majority peer group and place them more at risk for school failure and antisocial behavior.