Posted: Wed 13th Jul 2022

Sexual harassment in schools so common it’s become “normalised”, new report reveals

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jul 13th, 2022

Children as young as nine are being sexually harassed by their peers inside and outside of school, an event so common it’s considered “normal behaviour” according to a Senedd report.

The shocking information has been revealed in a report released today by the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, which heard evidence that harassment amongst pupils is so common it is often missed or considered normal by schools.

Previous figures from Estyn revealed that 61 per cent of female pupils and 29 per cent of male pupils had experienced sexual harassment.

82 per cent of female pupils and 71 pr cent of male pupils have seen others experience it.

However these figures are likely to be a significant underestimation.

The report also highlights how LGBTQ+ pupils are particularly at risk of sexual harassment as well having “substantial personal experiences of verbal homophobic harassment, with many saying that homophobic bullying is happening all the time.”

In written evidence provided to the committee, Barnado’s highlighted the issues faced by individuals with additional learning needs.

The organisation said: “Research shows that disabled children including those with learning difficulties, are three to four times more likely to experience abuse.

“To add to this, children with disabilities and special educational needs are much more likely to keep their abuse hidden and remain unidentified.”

Welsh Women’s Aid also highlighted how “black and minoritised young people are less likely to turn to education professionals for support.”

It revealed that 86 per cent of white British young people respondents identified ‘education’ (teachers, support staff, tutors, lecturers, other staff) as a potential source of support for young people, compared to just 66 per cent of black and minoritised young people did.

The committee is now calling for the Welsh Government to use a national campaign to target not only learners, but their families and school staff too, to raise awareness of behaviours considered to be sexual harassment and empower pupils to call out such behaviour with the confidence it will be dealt with correctly.

In total, the report makes 24 recommendations to better protect children and young people.

These include:

  • A review into peer on peer sexual harassment among primary school-aged children, drawing on the expertise and guidance of children’s charities, academics and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales as appropriate
  • The Welsh Government must treat peer on peer sexual harassment as an Adverse Childhood Experience and ensure that it prioritises, and allocates resources to its response to peer on peer sexual harassment accordingly
  • The Welsh Government and Estyn must adopt/continue to use the definition of sexual harassment used by Estyn in its 2021 report ‘We Don’t Tell our Teachers’, including the specific examples of peer on peer sexual harassment Estyn used in its work with pupils
  • The Welsh Government must ensure that schools and colleges create a culture in which sexual harassment is unacceptable, reports of sexual harassment are taken seriously and responded to promptly and consistently
  • The Welsh Government must publish the LGBTQ+ action plan no later than autumn 2022. The action plan must acknowledge the scale and impact of sexual harassment on LGBTQ+ learners, and set out how the Welsh Government will support schools and others to address it

The causes of peer on peer sexual harassment are described as being “deep-rooted societal attitudes amplified by pornography, social media, and, in recent years, the COVD-19 pandemic.”

However schools are seen as “ideal places for the process of denormalisation to begin, and for interventions promoting healthy relationships to make a real different to the lives of children and young people.”

The report states: “Clearly, sexual harassment does not begin and end in schools.

“It permeates into school culture because it is so endemic and widespread throughout culture more widely.

“We recognise that tackling sexual harassment will require an enormous collective effort by governments, schools and other public bodies, parents and even pupils themselves to denormalise harmful and unhealthy behaviours that are so engrained across society.

“Nevertheless, schools are ideal places for the process of denormalisation to begin, and for interventions promoting healthy relationships to make a real different to the lives of children and young people.

“We have heard that schools and colleges are mindful of the wider causes of peer on peer sexual harassment, and work hard to teach children about the risks and unhealthy behaviours associated with pornography, social media, online gaming platforms and across society more generally.

“We encourage them to continue to do so as part of Personal and Social Education within the current curriculum, Relationships and Sexuality Education within the new curriculum, and beyond.”

Jayne Bryant MS, chair of the Children, Young People and Education committee, said: “Sexual harassment among learners is shockingly commonplace. Many schools simply don’t know how to react to sexual harassment and in some cases don’t even recognise the signs of sexual harassment.

“We need the Welsh Government to empower teachers, parents and pupils to support and identify when sexual harassment is happening. There is an element of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s just teasing’ and frankly, this attitude needs to change. The alternative is dire.

“The impact of sexual harassment on some learners is so severe that t not only affects their learning, it can affect their relationships, mental health, life prospects and – in the most serious of cases – lead to self-harm and suicide.

“We have asked a lot of the Welsh Government in this report; our young people deserve no less.”

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