Harassment based on sex, including failure to conform to gender stereotypes, is prohibited by Title IX. Much of what is referred to as “bullying” is actually unlawful peer-on-peer harassment. The law applies whether the harassment involves students of the opposite or of the same sex, and whether it is conducted in person, online, or through other media. Title IX’s protection extends to sexual harassment in all of a school’s programs or activities, whether the harassment occurs on school property, on a school bus, or at an off-site school event.

Despite efforts to curb sexual harassment, this form of discrimination is still prevalent in schools and on college campuses. More than half of girls and 40% of boys in grades 7 through 12 reported being sexually harassed during the 2010–2011 school year. Among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, harassment is even more extensive: 85% say they have been verbally harassed, and 19% report physical assault. In addition, nearly two-thirds of college students aged 18–24 experience some form of sexual harassment. The numbers for men and women are similar, although women report greater emotional and educational disruption from harassment.

When sexual harassment occurs, Title IX requires that schools take immediate, effective action to eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy the effects on the victim. These steps are essential for creating a learning environment in which all students can succeed. Better training and strengthening of the law—for example, giving students the same protection from harassment that employees have in the workplace—would help curb this widespread and damaging conduct.