Slut Bashing and Other Forms of Sexual Harassment

  • Maureen McHugh, PhD

    Slut is a derogatory term applied to express negativity towards the sexual behavior and the appearance of girls and women, and acts as a weapon to relationally aggress against girls and women. Slut bashing is a prevalent practice in U.S. high schools, confirming the continuing existence of the sexual double standard. Slut bashing can have long term effects for the targets who suffer from social isolation and poor self-image. In this presentation McHugh examines the research documenting the extent and the impact of slut bashing as a particular form of sexual harassment of girls in school. The results of several studies conducted by McHugh and her students are presented. For example, students in class and in focus groups described their own observations and participation in slut bashing. Reports confirmed widespread derogation of girls and women as sluts, and demonstrated the operation of the sexual double standard. In a separate study, twelve female respondents who reported being called a slut were interviewed. Common themes reported by respondents included:  feelings of low self-esteem, isolation and depression; dislike for school; escaping through drugs, alcohol use, and dissociation.