Sexual assault in grade school by students is a real, under-reported problem, AP finds

Sexual assault is a problem in K-12 education
(Image credit: AP/YouTube)

At least 17,000 sexual assault cases of students, by students were officially reported in K-12 schools in the U.S. from fall 2011 to spring 2015, and this already shocking number "does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don't track them, and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence," The Associated Press reported Monday, following a yearlong investigation. "A number of academic estimates range sharply higher."

There are about 50 million K-12 students in the U.S. Some more findings:

Children remain most vulnerable to sexual assaults by other children in the privacy of a home, according to AP's review of the federal crime data, which allowed for a more detailed analysis than state education records. But schools — where many more adults are keeping watch, and where parents trust their kids will be kept safe — are the No. 2 site where juveniles are sexually violated by their peers. Ranging from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling, the sexual violence that AP tracked often was mischaracterized as bullying, hazing, or consensual behavior. [...]About 5 percent of the sexual violence involved 5- and 6-year-olds. But the numbers increased significantly between ages 10 and 11 — about the time many students start their middle-school years — and continued rising up until age 14. They then dropped as students progressed through their high school years. [...] Contrary to public perception, data showed that student sexual assaults by peers were far more common than those by teachers. For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported on school property, there were seven assaults by students, AP's analysis of the federal crime data showed. [AP]

"Everyone feels like we don't have a problem, and the reason they feel that way is they have their heads in the sand," Oregon psychologist Wilson Kenney tells AP. "There's just a reluctance to see that there's sexual violence at such a young age," says Dorothy Espelage, who researched sexual offenses and harassment in middle school at the University of Illinois. The AP report tells the story of Chaz, who says he was raped multiple times in middle school. You can learn more about the uncomfortable problem of K-12 sex assault and hear from Chaz in the AP video below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.