COMMONS

Ministers questioned on sexual harassment in schools

12 July 2016

The Women and Equalities Committee hold the final evidence session of its inquiry into Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools with evidence from three Ministers.

Witnesses

Tuesday 12 July 2016, Committee Room 5

At 10.30am

  • Karen Bradley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office
  • Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, Department for Education
  • Edward Timpson MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, Department for Education

Purpose of the session

During the course of this inquiry the Committee has heard how sexual harassment is a routine and everyday occurrence in many schools across England and Wales. Statistics received from Girlguiding UK show that 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.

Research by Bristol Public Health found that "sexual bullying, sexism and harassment are normalised, everyday occurrences" that are often positioned as "a joke" and therefore not reported. The Committee has heard from students themselves about the barriers young people face to reporting incidences of sexual harassment. As one anonymous submission to the inquiry revealed:

"I have been experiencing this kind of harassment my whole life. [As a child], I learned to equate aggression and cruelty with affection…to hate my body for making [boys] do this to me…and that complaining about sexual harassment is silly and makes you look like a typical 'oversensitive' female."

With the weight of evidence submitted to the inquiry on the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools, the Committee will ask ministers if enough is being done by Government to tackle this serious issue.

The Committee will ask also ministers whether they will commit to making PSHE and SRE compulsory subjects.  

Evidence supplied to the Committee has overwhelmingly demonstrated that compulsory PSHE/SRE can play a significant role in reducing levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school and beyond.

Everyday Sexism Project 

As Laura Bates from the Everyday Sexism Project explained to the Committee:

"All the evidence I have seen suggests that the single most effective measure to tackle this problem would be the introduction of compulsory sex and relationships education on issues such as sexual consent, online pornography, healthy relationships and gender stereotypes in all schools, including coverage of LGBTQ identities and rights, starting from primary school level."

Ministers will also be asked to explain how the Government plans to address the impact of the increased availability of pornography on young people's attitudes to sexual relationships and consent.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller, said:

"The evidence we have received shows that the problem of sexual harassment in schools is widespread and is not being adequately tackled. We want to hear exactly what the Government plans to do to ensure that schools, teachers, parents and young people are able to work together to address this issue."

Background

Data published in September 2015 showed that 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three year period, including 600 rapes. A 2010 YouGov poll of 16-18 year olds found 29% of girls experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and a further 71% said they heard sexual name-calling towards girls at school daily or a few times per week. 

In 2015 Girlguiding UK (PDF 318 KB) found that 75% of girls and young women said anxiety about potentially experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives in some way. The same survey found that 90% of young women aged 13-21 agree that the government should make sure all schools are addressing sexual harassment and bullying in schools.

Further information

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