Sex-based bullying: Utopia or fraud?

Apropos of Joanne’s earlier post, we now learn that 14 large, urban school districts reported absolutely zero incidents of sex-based harassment or bullying. The American Association of University Women doesn’t believe them:

“These reports of no sexual harassment and bullying happening in a school district are impossible to believe,” AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman said. “It just does not sync with what we know to be the unfortunate reality for many school children in this nation.”

Two quick thoughts:

First, every now and then I’m struck by the credulous, make-believe character that bureaucrats and activists sometimes demonstrate.  Linda D. Hallman is treating these reports as if these school districts had said, sincerely and with a straight face, “Why, we don’t have any sexual harassment here.”  But of course that’s not at all what is going on, and no one really thinks it is.  The reports, to the extent that they were technically reports of zero harassment,  weren’t meant to be believed, and nobody’s really fooled — including Hallman.  Yet here she is acting like the whole thing is a serious assertion of fact.  There’s a surreal quality to the whole performance.

Second, the reports might be true, because what the schools were asked about were allegations, disciplinary actions, and no students reporting being harassed/bullied on the basis of sex.  They weren’t asked to produce some Platonically true statistic about the state of sexual harassment/bullying in their district, but rather to produce concrete proxies for that sort of datum.  And depending on how a school handles bullying, how a school defines the things being investigated, those proxies could be woefully inadequate or just inartfully defined.  Just imagine a school district in which all this sort of stuff is handled at the classroom level unless it reaches the criminal level, in which case it gets reclassified out of the bullying category and into some legal definition relating to the statutory offense.  The district looks at its figures, and says (honestly) “Sorry, no sex harassment here.  We have a few hundred felony sexual assaults, but nothing else.”

We also learn, from looking at the list of the 20 largest districts, that Florida has really big school districts.