Study: Sexual Harassment, Misogyny Prevalent Among Young People

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Teenagers and young adults often experience misogyny and sexual harassment in their relationships, according to a new report from Harvard University. The report found many adults are highly concerned about “hookup culture,” causing them to neglect more prevalent concerns among young people.

Report Highlights Relationship Concerns Among Young People

The study is part of the Making Caring Common project, a project dedicated to nurturing responsible, justice-oriented young people. Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, directs the program. He is also the study’s lead author.

Weissbourd and his colleagues drew upon more than 3,000 formal and unstructured interviews with teens and young people across the country. The interviews uncovered some trends:

  • Sexual assault among young people is high, but parents and educators often fail to discuss consent-related issues. Sixty-one percent of survey participants ages 18-25 said their parents had never discussed ensuring their partners wanted to have sex. More than half (56%) said their parents had failed to highlight the importance of not pressuring another person into sex, and 49% said their parents had not encouraged them to ensure they were comfortable before having sex.
  • Young people reported feeling unprepared for lasting romantic relationships, and many were anxious about developing them. Seventy percent said they wish their parents had provided them with more information about this topic.
  • Gendered discrimination and sexual harassment are highly prevalent among young people. Eighty-seven percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment. Yet, many young people reported being untroubled by gendered harassment. Forty-eight percent agreed with or were neutral about the notion that “society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women.” One in three men and 22% of women said they thought men should dominate romantic relationships.

Lack of Meaningful Discussion Between Adults and Teens

The survey found adults consistently fail to address the topics that most frequently and harmfully affect young people. For example, 76% of participants said their parents had never discussed with them how to avoid sexually harassing others. When parents did discuss topics such as sexual consent, respondents said those discussions wielded significant influence.

Both teen and adult respondents expressed excessive worry about “hookup culture.” Research suggests hookups are not as pervasive among young people as many adults believe. However, myths about hookup culture can pressure young people into sex before they feel ready. Teens and young adults may also feel shame and embarrassment.

The study’s authors urge parents, educators, and other adults to be ready to respectfully and frankly discuss the issues that most frequently affect young people. They highlight the need to educate teens about respectful relationships, move beyond clichés and platitudes, intervene when they witness degrading behavior, and openly discuss what it means to ethically handle romantic relationships.

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