What is Sexual Bullying?

Sexual bullying is any instance when youth use sexual words, acts, images, threats, or any other behavior in any manner to distress, harm, taunt, demean, humiliate, and/or embarrass other youth who do not welcome, encourage, or want to participate in the exchange.

Sexual bullying may occur once, or it may occur frequently. It encompasses a wide variety of behaviors and is perpetrated by youth against their peers. It can occur in person, online, or digitally.

In some instances, such as spreading rumors about a classmate, a victim may not even know it is occurring.

When schools prioritize awareness initiatives, like Step Up. Step In., a cultural shift can occur to stop sexual bullying. When left unchecked, however, sexual bullying brings tangible consequences to victims, as well as to the schools and communities around them.

Spreading demeaning rumors about individuals or groups is one of many forms of sexual bullying. 

Examples of Sexual Bullying

Conversation about sexual topics or acts

Lewd, suggestive, or demeaning remarks

Derogatory names based upon real or rumored sexual activity

Derogatory names based upon real, rumored, or perceived sexual orientation

Sex-based or demeaning rumors about individuals or groups

Coercion by force or threat

Written correspondence about, or that suggests, sexual acts or uses sex to demean recipients

Graffiti that appears on personal belongings or in public space 

Sexual photos


Live or recorded video, audio, and any other format

Sending, forwarding, or keeping sexually explicit content without permission 

Non-violent or violent touching

Groping and grabbing of a sexual nature

Tugging, touching, or snapping undergarments 

Sexual Bullying in a Digital World

While some instances of sexual bullying are obvious and happen, often incredibly, right before our eyes, others are more difficult to detect, but the harm to all victims and perpetrators can be long-lasting.

That’s because sexual bullying often occurs on social media apps and websites that youth access through smart phones, tablets, and computers – where adults forget or don’t even know to look. The popularity of apps changes very quickly, especially among youth, which makes monitoring them even more challenging for adults. 

  • A Snapchat picture of a girl with the word “slut” scrawled over it travels from phones to social media.
  • A post on Yik Yak – a popular app that allows people to post and reply to comments with complete anonymity – ridicules a student for his perceived sexual orientation.
  • Self-taken pictures (“selfies”) of a youth in a state of undress (which  may also be considered child pornography by local and federal law enforcement) is shared among a student body first via text message – and then online
  • A teen girl takes a risqué Snapchat picture and sends it to her boyfriend. Without her knowing, he secretly uses another app to save the picture to his phone. She breaks up with him several weeks later. The disgruntled ex-boyfriend sends the picture to his friends … who send it to their friends … who post it online and share it through social media. Snapchat is a popular mobile app that youth use to send pictures to each other. Although the pictures supposedly “disappear” 10 seconds after being viewed, there are easy ways for recipients to save a photo to their phones.