Sexual harassment also common among primary school-aged children

Sexual harassment between children is widespread. The information comes from a study conducted by the University of Oulu, which examined sexual harassment that took place in peer relationships between children and the possibilities of dealing with the issue with children through creative methods.

Harassment can be very visible but it can also be subtle. Harassment can take place both in relationships between girls and those between boys, but also in those between the sexes. Harassment is often linked to friendship, dating-like relationships or the pressures of being a girl or boy. Harassment in children's peer relationships is not easy to recognise, as it is often a strong mix of tension and joking, or fun and irritation.

Many children feel that they have been left alone with no support from adults in issues related to harassment. Distorted and unequal relationships affect children's wellbeing, feeling of safety and school satisfaction. These also create the foundation for future intimate partner violence and sexual harassment in adult life.

Researchers hold creative workshops for children aged 11–12 in the Oulu region, where children have written for example the following about sexual harassment.

"It is really annoying when other boys try to force me to grab girls' boobs."

"I've had someone assess my butt."

"Even if you're only friends with a girl, others will make a big deal about it and start spreading rumours that you're in a relationship."

"It made me really anxious and uncomfortable when two boys I didn't know showed up in the yard. One filmed me from a hiding place and the other came up to me and slapped and squeezed my butt."

"Girls chase me, and it makes me anxious."

"Just because I'm a boy's friend, does not mean that I would like to be something 'more'. And even if I did, that wouldn't make me a slut."

"Boys have sent me messages and made prank calls to me saying they will rape me, but done it as a 'joke'."

Pupils wrote down their experiences on cards, which were posted to members of Parliament for Valentine's Day. The project is based on a decision made by Parliament at the beginning of 2018 in which it decided to take steps to combat and prevent harassment in Finnish society, Researchers realised that the discussion almost completely ignored harassment experienced during childhood. The purpose of the Valentine's Day cards is to bring visibility to the fact that sexual harassment is a common part of life for many children in primary school.

Researchers note that sexual harassment in childhood peer relationships must be taken into account in political decision-making and the resources allocated to education. Relationship education provided at school, at home and during hobbies plays a significant role in preventing harassment later on in life.

The materials produced within the scope of the research project will act as the foundation for the study, which will be a continuation of long-time research on children's and young people's gender-specific power relationships at the University of Oulu's Department of Gender Studies. The research projects will also comprise theses and the publishing of scientific articles.

A selected collection of Valentine's Day cards posted to members of Parliament were published on the project's website on Valentine's Day.

Last updated: 4.7.2018