Government's assessment of sexual harassment and violence in schools

We have identified specific areas of the Government’s written evidence for further scrutiny. We invite your comments on the strength of the Government's evidence with regard to its assessment of the scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. Please include hyperlinks or references for any alternative evidence you refer to in your appraisal.

The comments received will help the Committee evaluate the evidence received from the Department and identify where contrasting evidence exists.

The Committee will use the input it receives to question ministers on July 12 and may quote from comments in its final report.


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7 Responses to Sexual harassment in schools web forum

Kadra Abdinasir says:
July 06, 2016 at 05:11 PM
•School exclusions
In its submission, the Government presents the latest figures for school exclusions, both fixed term and permanent that resulted from sexual misconduct at school. Though the Government explain that these involve the most serious cases of sexual abuse, assault and bullying etc., we know that far too many cases are either not identified or considered serious enough to warrant exclusion. For this reason, we would suggest that the Committee reads these numbers with caution.

•Responding to cases of sexual bullying and harassments and exclusions
We also know that excluding a pupil can be a challenging process for schools due to the cost of excluding pupils as well as the lack of confidence many teachers and school leaders still have in both responding to reports of sexual harassment in schools and making a decision to exclude the offending pupil.

We have heard of cases of young people who have been affected by sexual harassment in schools being excluded themselves. For example, one case we have been involved in noted that a school exclusion in which the girl who was experiencing sexual violence was excluded at the same time as the boy who was perpetrating sexual violence against her. With this in mind, the data on school exclusions needs to be monitored and analysed to understand the rates of exclusions relating to young people who sexually harm and those who may be victims.

It is also clear that guidance on school exclusions needs improving to outline responses to sexual bullying and harassment in schools including on how to proceed with exclusions of both pupils who are perpetrators and those who are victims. Our practitioners also suggest that there is a culture of fear amongst staff in schools related to Ofsted inspections and the handling of sexual harassment and violent cases. This may result in the underreporting of cases and an avoidance of proceeding with a fixed term or permanent exclusion of a child or young person for fear of a poor Ofsted rating.

•Supporting children and young people who are excluded as a result of sexual misconduct
Children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviours in schools and are excluded also need better assessment of their needs and support for both themselves and their families, i.e. through targeted programmes, to help deal with their behaviour, or to help them recover from earlier abuse that was a contributory factor to the development of sexually harmful behaviours. Our Old Enough to Know Better report raised concerns about the lack of therapeutic support for young people who display sexually harmful behaviour. Our practitioners report an absence of clear referral pathways for young people to get assessment of their needs and to access therapeutic support to deal with their behaviour, or to help them recover from earlier abuse that was a contributory factor to the development of sexually harmful behaviours.

Recommendation: There is a need to improve the funding and availability of quality therapeutic support for children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour to help them address their behaviour.

•Children and young people’s own experiences
The Children’s Society believes that to truly understand the scale of the problem, it is important to gain and consider the views of children and young people themselves. The research cited by the Government is based on the views of teachers and senior leaders. While this is important, it is important to hear about experiences of young people from themselves as we have included in our submission to the Committee.
sarah green says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:57 AM
We would challenge the Government’s submission on the scale of the problem and we believe their response highlights the DfE’s inability to answer to this question comprehensively due to a lack of accurate data (because sexual harassment and bullying are not specifically monitored) which in turn reflects a lack of commitment to recognizing and eradicating this abuse.

The NFER survey from which figures are taken does not specifically include a category on sexual bullying, making the 5% statistic they provide a transparently gross underestimate. While we are hugely encouraged that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying are specifically monitored, these are clearly not the only kind of abuses “related to sexuality and gender.” Sexism and misogyny, which intersect with racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other forms of abuse for many girls (including BME, lesbian and trans girls for example) should be specifically addressed too.

Our 2010 research conducted by YouGov on young women’s experiences of sexual harassment in schools (such as sexist name-calling and unwanted sexual touching) found it to be commonplace at school:

Almost one in three (29%) 16-18 year-old girls had experienced ‘groping’ or other unwanted sexual touching at school;

71% of 16-18-year-olds said they heard sexual name-calling such as “slut” or “slag” towards girls at school daily or a few times per week.

Finally, in contrast to the Government’s evidence we would draw the Committee’s attention to the exposure in September 2015 of the levels of rapes recorded by the police in schools by a BBC FOI investigation as extremely significant; it revealed that more than 5,500 sexual assaults, including 600 rapes, were recorded by the police as having taken place in schools in England and Wales over the previous three years (and it is commonly estimated that across the population only around 10-15% of rapes are ever reported to the police). There was little Government response to this finding at the time, when it surely ought to lead to urgent questions about why this is happening and what needs to change to address it.
Girlguiding says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:37 AM
The scale of the problem (points 4-6)
1.Girlguiding is pleased to see that the Department for Education collects information from schools on the ‘most serious incidents’. Girlguiding is concerned is that these figures don’t reflect the whole problem. Many incidents of sexual harassment will not be reported to teachers or go as far as leading to exclusions, and therefore going unreported.

2.While Girlguiding was pleased to see that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) teacher voice survey included statistics on homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic bullying it failed to include any information on gendered aspects of bullying and harassment or around cyberbullying. The survey also doesn’t give any information about the nature of the bullying taking place. We therefore believe the scale of the problem is not being measured adequately. The Government submission notes that the survey did not explicitly include a sexual bullying category which could lead to a confused picture of what is considered sexual bullying.
Will Gardner, CEO, Childnet says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:35 AM
Current research into online sexual harassment and the range of behaviours that it entails is very limited, and the prevalence of online sexual harassment among young people across the UK is unknown. However, evidence from Childnet's work in schools and the UK Safer Internet Centre’s helpline suggest this is a growing problem that is severely under-reported.

To address this gap and the emerging issue of online sexual harassment Childnet has recently submitted an application to the European Commission’s Daphne fund. The objective of Project deSHAME (Digital Exploitation and Sexual Harassment Among Minors in Europe) is to increase understanding and reporting of online sexual harassment among minors, an emerging area of gendered violence against children, through developing and evaluating youth-led and multi-sector interventions in 3 EU Member States (Bulgaria, Denmark and UK), and then to transfer this learning throughout Europe. If the proposal is accepted this work would take place from January 2017 to June 2019.

As part of the development of Project deSHAME we have defined online sexual harassment as a range of behaviours including:
• Self-taken ‘sexting’ images or videos distributed to a wider audience non-consensually (also known as ‘revenge porn’, often shared via ‘baited’ pages)
• Digital evidence of sexual acts shared online
• Digital evidence of sexual assaults or rapes shared online
• Sexual images taken non-consensually and shared online (also known as ‘creep shots’)
• Using sexual images to threaten, coerce or blackmail someone (also known as ‘sextortion’)
• Harassing or pressuring someone to share sexual images of themselves
• Sexual name calling (such as ‘slut’ or ‘slag’) online, particularly on images
• Hate speech online targeting because of their gender or sexual orientation
• Gossip, rumours or lies about sexual behaviour posted online (also known as ‘slut shaming’)
• Altering images of a person to make them sexual (for example, superimposing their face on a pornographic image)
• Online threats of a sexual nature (for example, rape threats)
• Sharing sexual content online in an intimidating or harassing way (for example, sexual messages, pornography or self-taken images/videos)

Many of these behaviours can overlap with online and offline experiences of bullying, relationship abuse, gang involvement, sexual abuse and stalking.
Most commonly this behaviour is taking place within peer groups, focused around schools and local communities, and very often it is taking place online in front of an active, engaged audience. In some cases this harassment is private and targeted at an individual. It is also possible for this to be perpetrated by a stranger or anonymous person online.

There are a number of gaps in knowledge which will be addressed in Project deSHAME, increasing our understanding of online sexual harassment and enabling the development of effective awareness-raising activities and multi-sector interventions that will help tackle the underreporting of online sexual harassment. Research questions include:

• How many young people have witnessed or been a victim of online sexual harassment and what forms can this take (including non-consensual sharing of an intimate image, sexual name-calling online, sexual rumours or gossip shared online about them)
• How many young people have reported online sexual harassment and where do they seek help and advice
• What barriers and attitudes prevent children from reporting online sexual harassment (including skills, knowledge, confidence, attitudes), and what can facilitate reporting
• What makes young people vulnerable to online sexual harassment, including the role of gender, age, and other risk factors like intimate partner violence, gang involvement, mental health needs, sexuality, disability or special educational need
• What protective factors can support young people’s resilience to online sexual harassment
• How are schools and police responding to the issue of online sexual harassment and how can they be supported to improve their strategies for preventing and responding to this issue
Jo Sharpen, AVA says:
July 04, 2016 at 08:49 PM
AVA find this evidence very concerning. Whilst it is good that the government have been collecting evidence on sexual harassment, it is extremely disappointing to read that sexual bullying was not explicitly asked about. These figures do not give a true representation of the levels of daily sexual abuse, harassment and bullying that take place in our schools.

Research has shown that in 2013, the police recorded over 1000 reports of sexual violence in schools. 134 were reported as rape .
In a poll of 16-18 year olds: 29% of girls said they experienced ‘groping’ or other unwanted sexual touching at school; 71% said they have heard sexual name-calling such as “slut” or “slag” towards girls at school daily or a few times per week (EVAW, 2010).

AVA's own research interviewed 594 young people across 6 schools and found 17% knew someone else in school who had been raped and 10% had been sexually touched/harassed in school.

This abuse often goes unchallenged and unrecorded. Girls are often left to come up with their own safety strategies (including wearing shorts under their skirts) or simply not going to school for fear of abuse and bullying.

This evidence ignores the fact that many schools do not currently collect data on sexual bullying and that many young people will not report this abuse either because they do not realise it is abusive (due to the normalisation of sexual bullying and the sexual objectification of women in society and the lack of education about unhealthy relationships, abuse and gender equality).

It is also not appropriate to only look at behaviour that has led to a form of exclusion.

From the 1113 teachers surveyed, high numbers were citing verbal (74%), cyberbullying (45%) and physical abuse (26%). These figures are very concerning and although not all incidences may be related to sexual abuse, abuse occurs on a continuum and these forms of abuse do not take place in silos. It is highly likely that much of the verbal, cyber and physical abuse was sexual in nature but as this was not specifically addressed, teachers may not have had the opportunity to give details.

To say that sexual bullying occurs in 5% of schools, based on these findings is irresponsible and lets down children, young people and staff in schools who need support to identify,challenge and report this form of abuse.

AVA research found that once trained (using our whole school approach model), teachers logged a 300% increase in the amounts of sexual bullying in schools. This was not because it had not been happening before, but finally staff understood what to look for and felt confident to challenge and report it.

Until we have a whole school approach to tackling gender based violence and abuse in schools including teacher training, specific policies and reporting frameworks about sexual bullying and mandatory good quality sex and relationships education for children and young people, we will be able to properly address this serious issue.
Sarah James says:
July 04, 2016 at 04:22 PM
We use on-line pupil survey data as a school in Gloucestershire.
We have introduced lessons on homophobia, transgender bullying, FGM and honour based killing, healthy sexual relationships and consent.
The success of this can be measured in subsequent Biannual surveys and internal surveys as well as more open student response to gay and LGBT pupils
Jessica Eaton says:
June 28, 2016 at 12:02 AM
As a doctoral researcher and writer in the field of sexual violence and child sexual exploitation I was disappointed to see just 2 pages of evidence in which no effort has been made to actually collect data on the very topic you are investigating. The tenuous links made from different forms of bullying to sexual harassment appear lazy. Please utilise the excellent pieces of research from organisations such as Barnardos and academic researchers that actually present findings from much larger samples across secondary and primary schools across the UK about sexual bullying, sexual harassment, sexual threats and sexual violence using contact methods and online methods between children.

You may also want to consider the effect and impact of porn access to children this age on sexual harassment and bullying due to the evidence supplied by NSPCC which very clearly showed an increase in the number of primary aged school children accessing porn regularly using the increasing availability of technology. Porn has and always will contribute to the desensitisation of children to sexual violence and needs to be featured in the data.