Guide to Bullying Prevention

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Gender Oppression and Adolescent Girls

Researchers describe a phase around age of 11 or 12 when formerly self-confident and forthright girls start censoring their thoughts, insights, and feelings. Sexism and gender oppression in society affect girls and women, but they can be particularly challenging during early adolescence.

It is important to support girls as they deal with sexism, heterosexism, and other sources of stress by encouraging them to voice their opinions, take leadership roles, and express their feelings. It is equally important to interrupt any power imbalances in the classroom that might spill over from power imbalances inherent in society. If unchecked, power imbalances can be exploited and give rise to verbal and physical bullying. Sexual harassment, for example, is a form of bullying based on gender oppression. Staff training is crucial in creating and maintaining a classroom that is welcoming and conducive to learning for all students.

Things to Think About

  • Provide opportunities for school personnel to explore gender assumptions and stereotypes and how they affect interactions with youth.

  • Encourage students to understand gender stereotyping and offer alternative visions.

  • Help students decode the “mask of masculinity” and the “mask of femininity.” William Pollock states in his book Real Boys that the mask of masculinity is when a boy/man hides his genuine self to conform to society's expectations of males, such being unemotional or acting tough. The mask of femininity refers a girl/woman hiding her true self to conform to society’s expectations of females.

  • Include diverse role models in history, science, mathematics, and the arts so students recognize the contributions of women, people of color, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and people with disabilities.

  • Provide opportunities for youth of different backgrounds to work together on group projects and rotate leadership roles.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth Issues
As early as elementary school most children start hearing the phrase “that’s so gay” used as a disparaging remark, though these young students may not even know what the term gay means. Students in middle school reported remarks about someone’s presumed homosexuality or gender identity as one of the most common forms of verbal harassment. An aggressor’s perception that a target is violating stereotypical gender roles is a “bias indicator” suggestive of a gender identity bias motive for harassment or violence.
Many schools have Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs)––supportive clubs that create a safer climate for all students. Research has shown less harassment occurs in schools that have GSAs. Schools have a legal obligation to ensure the environment is safe and supportive for all young people. Staff and student training can reduce homophobia and heterosexism in the school environment and make it easier for young LGBT students to develop a positive identity.

By the Numbers

      • Youth who are LGBT are five times more likely to skip school because they are feeling unsafe on route to, or at, school.59

      • 6% of all high school students describe themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and/or report same-sex contact.60

      • 18% of LGBT students skip school at least once a month.61

      • 97% of all high school students hear anti-gay slurs daily. (The average student hears 25 such slurs a day.) Verbal harassment affects the health and safety of LGBT students.

      • When compared to heterosexual peers, LGBT youth are more than five times more likely to have attempted suicide.

      • 28% of LGBT students have been threatened or injured with a weapon over the last year (four times the average for non-LGBT youth).

      • 40% of LGBT students have never seen anyone intervening in an instance of anti-gay harassment at school.

Verbal and physical violence aimed at LGBT youth creates an unsafe environment for all students and exacerbates power imbalances in society. All such bullying needs to be addressed promptly and consistently. In Massachusetts, anti-gay and gender-related harassment are violations of students’ civil rights.62 School discipline and behavior codes must include “sexual orientation” and “gender” as protected categories. (See “Legal Issues Related to Bullying” on page 62 in Chapter 2.)

Teachers and other staff need training: to learn about the LGBT community; to understand the legal rights of LGBT students and their peers; and to develop understanding for the unique difficulties sexual minority students face.
Things to Think About

Together with parents, students, and your school faculty and personnel, you can develop new approaches that create a safer environment for all youth. Your school can provide training for staff on interventions that eliminate harassment and improve awareness of students’ legal rights. Some approaches to preventing anti-gay harassment include:

  • Challenge anti-gay harassment consistently—don’t let name-calling go uncorrected.

  • Include examples of LGBT people in discussions of contemporary life.

  • Support LGBT cultural activities and celebrations; post events on school bulletin boards.

  • Include LGBT and heterosexual examples when discussing emotional, social, and economic issues in relationships or family life.

  • Focus intervention on creating safety and equality in the school. The actual sexual orientation and/or gender identity of the bully and the person being bullied are irrelevant.

  • Recognize that LGBT youth, like other minorities, may feel isolated in the school and have no one to turn to who understands their experience.

  • Support the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

  • Invite members of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to your school to speak to students.

  • Support gay and lesbian teachers who are open about their identity.

  • Make events such as high school dances more inclusive by allowing students to invite a guest regardless of their sexual or gender orientation or expression.

Resources for LGBT Youth and Educators

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Support Project (GLYS Project)


Phone: 1-800-530-2770

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)


Phone: (617) 536-9669

Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)


Phone: 781-891-5966
GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders)

Internet: – offers expert legal information about the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students

Legal hotline: 1-800-455-GLAD


Flirting or Hurting: Sexual Harassment at School63

“I've always said, not every bully is a sexual harasser, but every sexual harasser is a bully.”— Sylvia Cedilla, expert on sexual harassment64
Many teachers report that the most common type of verbal abuse they hear, even from younger children, consists of sexually graphic or derogatory language. This behavior can escalate in middle school, where physical changes and emerging issues of gender and sexual identity can make students particularly vulnerable to such comments. Physical sexual harassment is also rampant in our nation’s schools, and can lead to serious physical and emotional harm.

The American Association of University Women has defined sexual harassment as "unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with your life. Sexual harassment is not behaviors that you like or want (for example wanted kissing, touching, or flirting)."65 Sexual harassment is illegal under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which provides that no person, on the basis of sex, can be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

For a comprehensive guide about your responsibilities as a school official, see Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties published by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, available for download at
By the Numbers

  • 40% of 5th–8th graders say they have experienced sexual harassment by their peers.66

  • 81% of teens say they had been harassed during school time.

  • 38% said teachers and other school employees have sexually harassed them.67

Things to Think About

  • Develop and publicize a sexual harassment policy that clearly states sexual harassment will not be tolerated and that explains what types of conduct will be considered sexual harassment––mention same-sex sexual harassment.

  • Develop and publicize a specific grievance procedure for resolving complaints of sexual harassment.

  • Develop methods to inform new administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, staff, and students of the school’s sexual harassment policy and grievance procedure.

  • Conduct periodic sexual harassment awareness training for all school staff, including administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors.

  • Establish discussion groups where students can talk about what sexual harassment is and how to respond to it in a school setting.

  • Survey students to find out whether sexual harassment is occurring at the school.

  • Conduct periodic sexual harassment awareness training for parents and teachers.

  • Work together with parents and students to develop and implement age-appropriate, effective measures for addressing sexual harassment.68

  • Address all reports of sexual harassment immediately and involve law enforcement, when appropriate.

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