COMMONS

Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools inquiry launched

20 April 2016

The Women and Equalities Committee launches the first parliamentary inquiry into the scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. It comes as new research shows how young people are being affected by this problem.

Fixers report

Prior to launching this inquiry, the Committee gathered the views of 300 young people from across the UK through a series of workshops run by Fixers. Young people reported that:

  • schools are not playing their part in recognising the pressures young people are under when dealing with matters of sexual harassment and sexual bullying
  • teachers may brush off incidents of sexual assaults or sexually threatening behaviour because of students relatively young ages
  • many incidents go unreported because students are worried that victims will be punished as well as perpetrators

Participant's comments:

"Lad culture is a big issue; it is really common. 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." Gemma, 22

"Say, if your bra got undone they would give a warning and that would be the last of it.  [Teachers] wouldn’t really bring it up, they’d tell them to ‘sit down, stop messing around, do your work’ and then it wouldn’t get reported anywhere else." Ella, 17. 

"At my school a girl was pressured into performing oral sex on an older boy in school. They were caught and both suspended for the same amount of time. I can see it is difficult for schools to get that right. They’ve got to be seen to be doing something, keeping the school’s reputation in check and deciding what to do is a tricky business. Schools are not equipped to deal with emotional analysis." Charlotte, 18.

Chair's comments

Maria Miller, Chair of the 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."

Call for evidence

We are looking for written evidence that focuses on one or more of the following issues:

Establishing the scale of the problem.

  • How much sexual harassment currently occurs in primary and secondary schools?
  • Who are the targets of harassment and who are the perpetrators?
  • How often are teachers the victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?
  • Are levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence increasing in schools?
  • How well is the problem being recorded and monitored?

Understanding the impact of sexual harassment in schools

  • What impact does sexual harassment and sexual violence in school have on girls and young women; boys and young men; and teachers?

What can be done to reduce levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?

  • What measures are currently in place to address this issue? How adequate are they?
  • What evidence is there of schemes proven to reduce levels of sexual harassment in schools in the UK or elsewhere?
  • Can schools tackle this problem individually or is national action needed to reduce levels of harassment?
  • What role can OFSTED play in monitoring and enforcing action on reducing sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?
  • What role can other stakeholders, including teacher training providers, teaching unions, governors and parents, play in tackling this problem?
  • What action would be most effective in reducing levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?

What can schools do to support students to deal better with the online elements of this problem?

Evidence from our pre-consultation work shows sexting, online bullying and the normalisation of pornography are all issues for students and they want more support in dealing with them.

  • How adequate are schools’ current responses to sexting and online sexual harassment?
  • What can schools do better to support their students to deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence online?
  • What impact is pornography having on levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?
  • What can be done by schools and other stakeholders to tackle the impact of pornography?

Send a written submission via the sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools inquiry page.

If you would like to submit evidence to the inquiry, please read Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons.

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

Image: iStockphoto

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