The education of many gay students may be at risk because of constant bullying in school, a problem compounded by the widespread tendency of school officials to ignore such treatment, according to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog group.

An independent organization that investigates human rights abuses around the world, the group released a two-year study on the problem in June, titled “Hatred in the Hallways: Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students in U.S. Schools.”

The study included interviews with 140 young people between the ages of 12 and 21 in seven states, as well as teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents. Based on the results of those interviews, the authors conclude that as many as 2 million students may be affected by bullying related to sexual orientation.

The study says that the bullying many gay students endure typically starts as verbal harassment: taunts, teasing, and name-calling. But when teachers and administrators fail to intervene at that stage, verbal abuse often turns physical.

To combat the problem, the report makes several policy recommendations. Those proposals include a call for the Education Department to more closely monitor schools and vigorously enforce federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment and discrimination.

Only five states have laws that outlaw discrimination against gay students, and there is no federal law aimed specifically at protecting them, according to the report.