Sexual harassment in schools sparks inquiry

Commons committee launches investigation into the scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools

One in three teenagers feels unsafe walking to and from school, according to a new report on sexual harassment among young people.

The report, The Trouble With … Sex in Schools, has been produced for the House of Commons women and equalities committee, which has today launched an investigation into the scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

The report, from the youth charity Fixers, warns that sexualised behaviour is the “new social norm” in young people’s daily lives. The charity interviewed 300 young people aged 16 to 25 from across the UK and found:

  • 27 per cent of young people said they had felt pressured into sexting, sexual activity, drinking alcohol or taking drugs while in or around school;
  • 34 per cent did not feel safe walking to and from school;
  • 12 per cent had been sexually assaulted.

The report includes testimonies from young people about their experiences.

“Lad culture is a big issue; it is really common,” said Gemma, 22, who is quoted in the report. “In my school lads would come up to girls and grab their ass, try and push them into the changing rooms and stuff and then say, ‘Don’t get upset, it’s just banter’.”

Keira, 25, said: “One of my friends, when she was 16, she sent a picture to a guy and he then sent it to everyone in the school. She was bullied for ages. It got so bad she even contemplated suicide.”

The report concludes that young people think schools do not recognise the pressures they are under when dealing with sexual harassment. It adds that many incidents go unreported because victims are worried about the repercussions.

‘Much goes unreported’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said that young people are under ever-increasing pressure to conform to sexual behaviours they may find “disturbing or unacceptable”.

“Teachers are aware of the struggle many students go through as a result of this pressure, but much is unreported,” she said. “As today’s report highlights, the pressures young people face are not going away.

“It is, therefore, vital that personal, social and health education (PSHE) and age-appropriate sex and relationships education (SRE) becomes mandatory in schools. This will give the time and space, and indeed permission, to discuss matters relating to sex and gender identity as well as sexual relationships.”

Maria Miller, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, said: “It’s clear from the young people we’ve heard from that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is having a profound impact on their day-to-day lives. We need to address this issue now, and stop it from blighting the lives of another generation of young people – both male and female.

“We’re asking teachers, students, parents, youth organisations and anyone else with an interest in this subject to share their knowledge and experience with us. We’ll use this evidence to find the most effective measures to reduce levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.”

In September 2015, the BBC reported that 5,500 alleged sex crimes in UK schools had been reported to the police in the previous three years, including more than 600 alleged rapes. It obtained the figures through freedom of information requests.

The sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools inquiry will take evidence until Sunday May 22 and it is keen to hear from young people.

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