Posted on April 19, 2017

NWLC Let Her Learn reports expose significant obstacles that push girls out of school

(Washington, D.C.) Nearly one in three teenage girls has experienced sexual violence or other physical violence. More than one in 10 has been homeless. Black girls are over six times more likely than white girls to be expelled from school. More than half of Latina girls worry that a friend or family member will be deported. And more than two in three girls experience symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder. These startling new statistics, released today with a series of reports by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), uncover major obstacles girls face to getting a quality education and topple the conventional wisdom that girls are doing well in school.

NWLC’s nationwide survey of 1,003 girls ages 14-18 in January 2017 is the first to expose the wide range of significant barriers teenage girls face both at home and at school that undercut their education. The survey’s extensive findings, broken down by race and LGBTQ status, provide a rare window into the lives of girls and reveal how trauma, harassment, and other negative experiences can too easily derail their futures. The anonymous nature of the survey allowed girls to give a truer picture of their lives than what typically is reported by government authorities, particularly the extent of sexual assault, a vastly underreported crime.

The reports, Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout, analyze the data and delve into the educational barriers faced by seven groups of girls—girls who have suffered harassment and sexual violence, girls who are homeless, girls of color, girls who are involved in the juvenile justice system, girls in foster care, girls who are pregnant or parents, and girls with disabilities. The reports provide information about each group of girls, detail the significant hurdles to succeeding in school, and outline practical solutions that policymakers, educators, and communities should initiate to help girls overcome these challenges.

“It’s a national disgrace that so many girls are being pushed out of school either overtly or because they aren’t getting the support they need,” said Anna Chu, NWLC Vice President for Income Security and Education. “Girls who don’t graduate from high school are more likely than boys in similar situations to be unemployed, earn low wages if they have jobs, and depend on public support programs to take care of themselves and their families. Girls’ futures are on the line—now is the time to take action and address their needs.”

“I was a good student and enthusiastic cheerleader who loved school—but things turned upside down when I was sexually assaulted by the star football player during lunch break my senior year,” said 19-year old Adriana Presas of Lansing, Michigan. “I told the principal what happened that same day. The next morning, texts from classmates and even close friends called me “a liar and a whore” who had ruined a boy’s life. The school did nothing to stop the harassment and bullying that became more vicious over time. I stayed home for two months and later took online classes because I didn’t feel safe at my school.”

“These reports and data should sound an urgent alarm for policymakers, educators, and communities,” said Neena Chaudhry, NWLC Director of Education. “The trauma that girls experience affects not only their mental and physical health but also their ability to concentrate, feel safe, and stay and do well in school. And yet our survey also showed that, despite the trauma, many girls are resilient and want to succeed and go on to college. For example, 4 in 5 girls feel optimistic about their future and more than 4 in 5 want to go to a four-year college. We need targeted policies to help these groups of girls stay and thrive in school, and we owe them no less.”

The national survey of girls ages 14-18 was conducted Jan. 5-19 by Lake Research Partners and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points; the margin of error for subsamples of girls is higher. NWLC survey and research toplines include:

Victims of sexual violence & harassment:

  • More than 1 in 5 girls (21 percent) reported that they had been sexually assaulted (with sexual assault defined as being kissed or touched without consent).
  • Nearly 1 in 3 girls (31 percent) reported being a survivor of sexual or other violence (with sexual violence defined as being kissed or touched without consent, being physically forced to have sex when they did not want to, or being forced to have sex in exchange for money and gifts and violence defined as being hurt or injured on purpose by someone they were going out with or by a family member).
  • More than half of pregnant and parenting girls (56 percent) reported that they had been kissed or touched without their consent.
  • Nearly 2 in 5 LGBTQ girls (38 percent) reported being kissed or touched without their consent.
  • 1 in 11 girls (9 percent) have experienced dating violence, defined as being hurt or injured on purpose by someone they were dating.
  • More than 2 in 3 girls (68 percent) who reported that they were survivors of sexual violence also reported having difficulty concentrating in school.
  • 3 in 10 survivors of sexual violence (30 percent) reported being absent from school because they felt they would be unsafe there or on their way to school.
  • 32 percent of girls who have been harassed or assaulted said they did “nothing” in response to the harassment or assault.
  • More than 1 in 6 girls (17 percent) reported that they had been harassed for any reason since the 2016 presidential election. Other studies have shown a marked increase in incidents of harassment around the country since the election, with more than 40 percent occurring in schools and colleges.

Homeless Girls:

  • Nearly 1 in 9 girls (11 percent) reported experiencing homelessness.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Black girls (19 percent) and LGBTQ girls (18 percent) reported experiencing homelessness.
  • Girls who have experienced homelessness reported being sexually assaulted at nearly twice the rate of girls overall (41 percent vs. 21 percent).
  • Nearly half the girls (47 percent) who experienced homelessness also reported that a family member had been hurt or injured on purpose by another family member or someone they were dating.
  • More than 7 in 10 girls (71 percent) who experienced homelessness said that it was difficult to concentrate in school—compared to 46 percent of girls overall.

Girls of Color:

  • More than half of Latina girls (55 percent) said they are worried that a friend or family member will be deported.
  • Almost a quarter of Latina girls (24 percent) reported being harassed because of their name or family’s origin.
  • Nearly half of Asian and Pacific Islander girls (46 percent) reported being called a racial slur—higher than any other group of girls.
  • Black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. (NWLC analysis of data from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC))
  • Black girls are 6.1 times more likely than white girls to be expelled from school and 2.5 times more likely to be expelled without educational services for the rest of the year. (NWLC analysis of CRDC data)
  •  Black girls with disabilities are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white girls with disabilities. (NWLC analysis of CRDC data)
  • Almost half (47 percent) of high schools with 90 percent or more students of color have at least one law enforcement officer, compared to just under a third (31 percent) of high schools with 90 percent or more white students. (NWLC analysis of CRDC data)

Girls revealed what would help them overcome their obstacles and achieve success in school, including:

  • More than 9 in 10 girls (91 percent) want schools to help them apply to college.
  • More than 8 in 10 girls (83 percent) want schools to train teachers and staff to recognize signs of trauma or mental illness.
  • Nearly 8 in10 girls (79 percent) want schools to encourage them to take classes in math and science.
  • Nearly 8 in10 girls (77 percent) want schools to share information about how they can report discrimination and harassment.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 girls (77 percent) want access to a crisis counselor.

Each of the seven reports outlines practical recommendations for policymakers, schools, parents/guardians, and advocates to better support girls. For example, schools should individualize graduation plans and use technology to allow survivors of sexual assault and violence and girls who are homeless to keep up with schoolwork remotely, if necessary. Parents/guardians and advocates of sexual violence survivors should examine their schools’ data on harassment and sexual violence to evaluate the school environment and press for changes as needed.


If you are interested in talking directly with girls to hear about their experiences at school or in interviewing an NWLC education expert, please contact Maria Patrick ([email protected]) or call 202-588-5180.

For Immediate Release: April 19, 2017
Contact:  Maria Patrick ([email protected]) or Olympia Feil ([email protected])

The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit:

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