Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools Contents



1.Data published in September 2015 showed that 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period, including 600 rapes.1 A 2010 YouGov poll of 16–18 year olds found 29% of girls experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and a further 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. Nearly a quarter (24%) said that their teachers never said unwanted sexual touching, sharing of sexual pictures or sexual name calling are unacceptable, and 40% said they did not receive lessons or information on sexual consent.2

2.In 2015 Girlguiding UK 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 agreed that the Government should make sure all schools are addressing sexual harassment and bullying in schools.3

3.Despite evidence that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is affecting the lives of girls and young women, the issue has received relatively little national attention prior to the launch of this inquiry. It has not been addressed by the UK Government to date, although it is an issue on which the Welsh Government has taken action. Whilst some schools and specialist organisations are doing excellent work in this area, too often incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence are ignored or receive an inadequate response.

4.Throughout this report we use the following definitions:

5.The evidence we have gathered shows sexual harassment and sexual violence operate on a continuum. Tackling sexual harassment in its early stages can prevent more serious forms of sexual offence. A 2013 Joint Inspectorate study of young sex offenders found that in almost half of the cases there was documented evidence of the young men and boys exhibiting previous “concerning sexualised behaviour” that was either not identified at the time or was subject to disbelief, minimisation and denial by professionals and families—crucially missing the opportunity to intervene and prevent abuse.6

Our inquiry

6.Our inquiry was launched in April 2016; the terms of reference are included in the annex of this report. We received 92 written submissions from individuals and organisations, 77 of which were published. 15 submissions, some of which included personal details of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, have not been published. However, some unpublished submissions are referred to anonymously in this report and all submissions were considered in reaching our conclusions and recommendations.

7.During this inquiry we held five oral evidence sessions. The transcript of the first session, in which we heard from young people aged between 13 and 18 who are currently still in school, has been anonymised. We are grateful to the NSPCC, UK Feminista and Tender for facilitating the session. We also held a roundtable session with a range of experts working directly with young people in schools; a session with Ofsted, the National Union of Teachers, the National Council of Police Chiefs, and Welsh Women’s Aid; a session focusing on boys and young men; and a session with Government ministers.

8.We are grateful to everyone who submitted written evidence, attended oral evidence sessions and contributed to this inquiry. We are especially grateful to those individuals who took the time to share their personal, and often harrowing, experiences of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. We also thank Fixers, for their scoping work for the inquiry launch, and Girlguiding UK for hosting the report’s publication. Finally, we are very grateful to our specialist advisors, Holly Dustin7 and Dr Christine Barter,8 for their assistance throughout the inquiry and report writing process.

9.This report seeks to understand the scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, as well as its causes and effects. It will examine how adequately schools and other stakeholders are currently dealing with the issue and make practical, evidence-based recommendations to improve the situation. The report also focuses on prevention, and the most effective strategies to ensure children develop the ability to form healthy, consensual relationships.

10.The first chapter will examine the scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. The report will then go on to assess the mechanisms currently in place for recording and responding to these incidents. The role of education in preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence will be examined, as well as the role of parents and specialist sector organisations. Finally, we examine the impact increased access to pornography is having on young people’s perceptions of sex, relationships, consent and gender.

2 End Violence Against Women Poll Results October 2010

4 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights Violence Against Women an EU Survey, 2014

5 Liz Kelly Surviving Sexual Violence (Polity, 1988)

7 No relevant interests declared.

8 No relevant interests declared.

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8 September 2016