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Sexual violence in schools: Women's groups support MPs' call for urgent Government action

13 Sep 2016

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), of which Rape Crisis England & Wales is a proud member, has welcomed a report published by Parliament's Women & Equalities Committee today (13th September), which reveals alarming levels of sexual harassment and violence against girls in schools. 

The report outlines evidence that:

• almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school

• nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls say they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a regular basis and

• 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year

Young people told the Committee that sexual harassment has become a normal part of school life with “calling women bitches and stuff like that… a common thing that you see in school, on a daily basis really.” 

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“This report clearly evidences what we have known for some time: that sexist bullying, sexual harassment and sexual violence against girls is rife in our schools.  Surely no-one who reads or hears these striking statistics today could now deny how serious or indeed how gendered this problem is. 

Urgent action is clearly needed to address and reverse the normalisation of sexism and sexual violence among young people, including better training for teachers and other school staff, high quality, age appropriate and compulsory sex and relationship education for all students, and resourcing not only for schools but for the specialist independent support services like Rape Crisis that have decades of expertise and experience to share but rarely the funding for the crucial partnership work they need and want to do.”

Today’s report finds an alarming inconsistency in how schools deal with sexual harassment and violence, which is mostly targeted at girls, a disregard for existing national and international equality obligations, and a lack of guidance and support for teachers.

MPs heard evidence that many schools are under-reporting incidents and often failing to take them seriously. The Committee was told by young people that their reports would be “forgotten about really easily and no action will be taken about what happened.” Academics and specialists working in schools warned that sexual harassment and sexual violence was too often accepted as the norm by both staff and students.

Despite calls from parents, teachers and young people for action to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, the Committee found that neither OFSTED nor the Department for Education has a coherent plan to tackle this issue and to monitor the scale of the problem.

EVAW, which submitted evidence to the inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual assault in schools, said the report was extremely timely and that it hoped the measures proposed could be incorporated into the new Education Bill.
EVAW Coalition Co-Director Rachel Krys said:
“Today’s report tells a shocking story of routine sexual harassment in our schools and sexual assaults being commonly minimised and ignored. Many girls feel they can do nothing about this behaviour. The Committee Chair Maria Miller MP said the evidence of the endemic nature of this abuse is overwhelming. The report’s findings should horrify every reader, and the recommendations should be no less than top of the political agenda.
“We gave evidence to the inquiry and argued that schools’ failure to adequately recognise this abuse and intervene to stop it is a violation of girls’ rights to safety and to equal access to education.
“We support the MPs’ call for new national guidance to schools on how to respond to sexual harassment and assaults, and for SRE to be made compulsory in order that young people are guaranteed to have the opportunity to talk with well trained, trusted adults about consent, equality and respect.
“Nothing less than a ‘whole school approach’ to tackling this abuse is necessary – better teacher training, better school leadership, improved safeguarding which recognises the harm of this behaviour, as well as age appropriate SRE in ALL schools.”
A 96-second film which looks at the consequences of failing to provide every young person with good SRE can be viewed here.
The online petition to make sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools, which already has more than 34,000 signatures, is here.