Government too slow to respond to rapes and sexual assaults in schools

BBC research reveals girls subjected to thousands of sexual assaults in schools, new guidance and funding for specialist interventions needed

As the BBC today (9 October) broadcasts two powerful programmes (1) documenting the scale of rape and sexual bullying in schools, and the hopeless response of many schools to these incidents, the End Violence Against Women Coalition has asked why the Department for Education has yet to issue guidance for schools on how to prevent this appalling abuse or how to respond when it happens.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition is also calling on the Government to fund training and interventions in schools to combat sexual bullying and harassment.

The BBC programmes, which include new figures revealing thousands of sexual assaults in schools, are aired a year after a significant Parliamentary committee published a damning report on sexual violence in schools (2). The inquiry by the Women and Equalities Select Committee laid out the devastating extent to which girls experience sexual violence and harassment in schools: 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period, including 600 rapes.

The committee’s far-reaching recommendations included immediate action to introduce high quality Sex and Relationships Education, and an urgent review of the guidance given to schools on how to prevent and respond to sexual violence and harassment. A year on schools still have no guidance and girls are being failed across the country.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“There has been plenty of evidence about the scale of sexual harassment and sexual assaults in our schools for years now, and the department charged with safeguarding our children has done too little. Parents and Parliamentarians were shocked last year when the Select Committee published its report, few could believe the extent of the problem or the lack of concerted effort by the Government to address it. A year on and schools are still waiting for guidance and girls are still being let down and exposed to danger.

“The parents who are talking today about the pathetic response by schools and authorities after their daughters were raped and sexually assaulted by fellow pupils, are understandably incredibly frustrated by what feels like a reluctance on the part of the Government to take action. All parents who hear the stories of groping and touching and sexual remarks which girls are subjected to daily must wonder why measures have not been put in place to tackle it. We need action from the Government now, including a stream of funding which will enable schools to get experts on sexual violence and bullying in, just as is already available for homophobic bullying.”

As well as disturbingly high levels of rape and sexual violence in schools, girls are subjected to relentless sexual harassment by other children in school.

  • 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
  • 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 (3).

As long ago as 2010, EVAW published research by YouGov which found that:

  • Close one in three (28%) of 16-18-year-olds say they have seen sexual pictures on mobile phones at school a few times a month or more
  • Close to one in four (24%) 16-18-year-olds said that their teachers never said unwanted sexual touching, sharing of sexual pictures or sexual name calling are unacceptable
  • 40% of 16-18-year-olds said they didn’t receive lessons or information on sexual consent, or didn’t know whether they did (4).

On Wednesday this week (11 October) at the Women and Equalities Select Committee, MPs will have the opportunity to question Ministers about progress made on responding to the committee’s recommendations from Autumn 2016.

Rachel Krys concluded:

“Our member organisations have known and have spoken out about the harassment and sexual assaults of girls in school for many years, and they have seen first hand that the common consequence of rape and sexual assault is that the girl ends up leaving the school. This is a serious violation of her very basic human rights including her right to education.

“We know our children are being exposed early to an extremely sexualised online culture. Teachers, school leaders and governors mustn’t ignore or minimise the behaviour which follows this – it’s not ‘just part of growing up’ or ‘banter’, we’re talking about serious crimes which have a lifelong impact. Schools have to be safe for girls, and the Government has to do its duty and help schools get this right once and for all.

“Finally, the data revealed by the BBC today is presented in a manner which talks entirely about ‘child on child assaults’ and makes it difficult to ascertain the gender of the children and young people involved. Sometimes police do not make gendered statistics available, but sometimes they do. We know that girls and young women very disproportionately experience rape and sexual violence. It is important that we have this information and that we are all able to name and understand exactly what is happening in our schools and beyond – girls growing up in a culture where they are harassed, touched and assaulted and where these incidents are often minimised. We implore all those who commission and collect crime data, and all media outlets who report it, to ensure we have clarity on the gender of victims and perpetrators so we can understand and tackle serious abuse.”

ENDS

Notes

  1. BBC Victoria Derbyshire and BBC Panorama: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b098tgslhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qqk5c
  2. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf
  3. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/news-parliament-2015/sexual-harassment-and-violence-in-schools-report-published-16-17/

http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/yougov-poll-exposes-high-levels-sexual-harassment-in-schools/

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