At least 48 percent of school students in grades 7-12 are sexually-harassed in school, a new national survey released by the American Association of University Women says.

The report, released Monday, says sexual harassment is “pervasive” in American schools and starts as early as the seventh grade.

The harassment comes in many forms: in person, via texting and on social networking sites.

Says the report:

Sexual harassment has long been an unfortunate part of the climate in middle and high schools in the United States. Often considered a kind of bullying, sexual harassment by definition involves sex and gender and therefore warrants separate attention. The legal definition of sexual harassment also differentiates it from bullying.

Sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools. Nearly half (48 percent) of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students(87 percent) said it had a negative effect on them.1 Verbal harassment (unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures) made up the bulk of the incidents, but physical harassment was far too common. Sexual harassment by text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means affected nearly one-third (30 percent) of students. Interestingly, many of the students who were sexually harassed through cyberspace were also sexually harassed in person.

The report found that the harassers — mostly boys — thought their actions were “no big deal” and considered it “fun.”

The AAUW data coincides with other studies that show that sex is used as a tool for intimidation in schools — not just high school but also in middle schools.

“We’ve reached a point where sex is so pervasive that it is part of our children’s lives,” social worker Karen Smithson of Los Angeles tells Capitol Hill Blue.  “Oral sex is now as causal as a goodnight kiss.”

Smithson points to a 2009 “Good Morning America” series of interviews with teenagers and pre-teens who talk about sex in schools.

Said one:

I gave my first blow job when I was a freshman dating a senior in high school in south Florida – it’s pretty much whore central down there. I was actually considered a late bloomer! But hey – that relationship lasted six years!

“You can have 12 year old girls performing oral sex on a teacher in exchange for good grades,” says Smithson.  “You can also have a teacher or older student intimidating a young girl into such activity through intimidation.”

The AAUW report comes as the news from the upcoming 2012 presidential election is dominated by sexual harassment allegations against GOP contender Herman Cain.

“Kids learn from adults,” Smithson said. “Bill Clinton claimed oral sex wasn’t really sex so kids think its OK too.  The same could be true with sexual harassment.”

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