Sexual harassment in schools

The recent report from the Government has been widely circulated among the media with the BBC stating: “The government has no coherent plan for tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence in England’s schools, say MPs…..Too many schools are failing their pupils, with inconsistent and under-reporting of assaults, says the report”

But, what is the role of Government, should they be the ones to be planning, directing, and enforcing what schools should and should not be doing to tackle a problem that is not new, but that may have just been ignored, and has almost certainly been exacerbated by the advances in digital technology? It is not a new issue, academic research regarding this very subject goes back to the mid 1990s identifying behaviours and recognising sexual harassment in schools as “gendered violence that often happens within the public arena” (Stein 1995). In a 1993 study, 83% of girls and 60% of boys in secondary schools (n=1203) reported unwanted sexual attention in school (Lee et al 1996).

The Government report also recommends “legislation to oblige schools to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and violence, with clear national guidance”. So you want to legislate and make it an offence for schools to not report but in the same breath talk about issuing guidance? What about training, what about supporting and empowering teaching staff and those tasked with pastoral care within a school setting to tackle the problems and deal with the issues? Guidance, yes, legislation, surely not?

“Too many schools are failing their pupils, with inconsistent and under-reporting of assaults, says the report”. Mmm…begs to have the question asked…are they more concerned with statistics and crime recording or in actually tackling the root causes of the problems and helping the victims, both girls and boys, who are subject to this ill treatment and abuse within their school environment. Does the lack of reporting it to “the authorities” indicate a lack of dealing with the issue or a confidence that school staff are dealing with this issue appropriately without the need to criminalise young people when that direction may not be the best tactic to work toward diverting them from inappropriate and potentially abusive behaviour now and in their future lives? The study by Lee et al (1996) raises questions about the cross over that can occur as over half of their students in the study identified themselves as having been both the victim and perpetrator of sexual harassment. They too, even back then, recognise the difficulty in developing a policy that needs to hold young people to account for their abusive actions but also allows for a range of intervention strategies.

We expect the true picture is a mix of everything, some schools brushing it under the carpet, some not recognising there is an issue, some doing their best without knowing where to turn for support and guidance, some tackling it at the root cause and supporting both victims and offenders, and others who default to it being someone else’s problem to deal with i.e. the police.

It would be good to know the experiences, views, and ideas of those reading this to assist us in reflecting on how best to work together to work towards solutions, guidance, and advice to help us all in our difficult roles of safeguarding and child protection.

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Tags: Discussion