Schools are treating sexual harassment as ‘horseplay’ and many teachers are still ‘victim-blaming’, a committee of MPs heard today
Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan, a network of black and minority ethnic women’s groups working to stop abuse of women and girls, said more needed to be done to hold schools to account for sexual violence and harassment of students.
How schools tackle the issue should be part of the Ofsted framework, she said.
While measures had been introduced to combat radicalisation of young people in schools, there was no similar initiative to tackle sexual harassment, Ms Larasi (pictured) added.
The activist was giving evidence during a women and equalities select committee hearing on the issue in schools.
“The government has created obligations to tackle radicalisation, but for us it’s really painful that the everyday terrorisation of young women and girls in schools is not being taken seriously,” she told MPs.
“We need it to be made part of the inspection framework as we need a structure for schools to be held accountable, but we don’t want it to be seen as an additional burden for schools.”
‘Schools must be champions on this issue’
Instead, schools should view it more as an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and young people, Ms Larasi added.
The decision to investigate the problem of sexual harassment and violence in schools came alongside research that showed one in eight pupils had been sexually assaulted. The research also showed that one in three teenagers felt unsafe walking to and from school.
Susie McDonald, chief executive of Tender, a charity that works to prevent domestic and sexual violence against young people, said too often schools and teachers treated sexual harassment as “horseplay”.
“We’re relying on teachers being champions on this issue, but we need schools to be champions of it,” Ms McDonald said. “Many, many teachers are victim-blaming at the moment and looking at sexual harassment as horseplay, as something that is just going on in the corridors. But until they are trained to look at the root of the issue they are not going to make the right judgements about what kind of training is needed in school.”
Schools were finding it increasingly difficult to fund specialist help in this area, as many school budgets were moving into deficit, she added.