The research highlights the experience of some young people who have been subject to sexual harassment or sexual violence in a school setting, with young people voicing concerns that:
- Schools do not recognise the pressures faced by young people when dealing with sexual bullying or sexual harassment
- Teachers ‘brush off’ incidents of sexual assaults or sexually threatening behaviour because of their relatively young age
- Many incidents are not reported because of fears about repercussions and victims being punished as well as perpetrators.
300 young people took part in the research conducted by Fixers, their voices can be heard in this video of testimonies. Included, are powerful messages about how sexualised behaviour is becoming the new social norm in young people’s lives.
Becky, age 16 said, “Underage sex is just seen as the norm. Programmes like Geordie Shore are making sex with ‘randoms’ just seem normal”.
Interestingly, the subject of underage sex sparked much debate amongst colleagues at a recent training event. With personal views and grey areas galore, it made me wonder just how consistent our approaches are. It also led me to consider, just how many different and mixed messages does one young person receive as they grow and develop their attitudes and understanding of sex and what we hope will be their understanding of a safe and healthy relationship.
The changing landscape of media and children’s exposure to it requires them to recognise, challenge and debate the vast array of negative images and stereotypes portrayed online. In my view, this signifies the important role that schools have in supporting children to develop their critical thinking skills and to provide a safe space to practice them.
The need to learn more about such sensitive issues is echoed in the report, with young people calling for more detailed and wide-ranging sex education and at an earlier age. They say that it should include the consequences of sexting, matters of consent and risk and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
When asked about their experiences, 27% of young people said they had felt pressured into sexting or sexual activity in and around school. Shockingly, children as young as 7 are reported to be sexting in the classroom. With 18% of young people reporting that they had been sexually harassed at least once and 12% saying that they had been sexually assaulted.
Data released in September 2015 showed that over a three year period, 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools, 600 of which, were rapes. Drawing from other research about the prevalence of abuse, we also know that many incidents of sexual abuse go unreported. This is highly likely to make the figure of 5,500, a significant underestimate.
When we think about safeguarding children in schools, it can be very easy to be heavily focused on the child protection element of recognising and responding to concerns. This of course, is absolutely vital, but I do think that we must do more to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. The curriculum is a powerful tool that we can use to teach children about these issues, to build resilience and to empower them so that they can help keep themselves safe.
The committee is calling for evidence from all stakeholders including teachers, but in particular, want to hear directly from young people, asking them to share their experiences and solutions.
The parliamentary inquiry will focus on:
- Establishing the scale of sexual violence and harassment in primary and secondary schools across the UK
- Understanding the impact of sexual violence and harassment on both pupils and teachers
- Finding practical solutions that will help to reduce the incidents of sexual violence and harassment in school settings.