MPs to investigate 'profound impact' of sexual violence in schools


The scale of sexual violence and intimidation in schools is to be examined by a Commons select committee in the first investigation of its kind.

With 200 alleged rapes a year recorded in British schools, MPs are launching the probe after evidence showed some teachers are not challenging incidents of sexual assault and turning a blind eye to sexual bullying among pupils.

Research provided for the Women and Equalities Committee from workshops with 300 young people across the UK also found that many incidents of sexual harassment go unreported because pupils fear the victim will be punished as well as the offender.

Committee chairwoman and Tory MP Maria Miller warned that action needed to be taken urgently. 

"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," Ms Miller said.

The committee is acting after freedom of information searches by the BBC last autumn showed that during a three-year period, 5,500 alleged sexual offences were recorded in UK schools, including more than 600 alleged rapes, and nearly 4,000 alleged physical sexual assaults.

A YouGov poll of 16-18 year olds taken in 2010 found 29% of girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and 71% said they frequently heard sexual name-calling towards girls at school. 

Research for the committee by the youth charity Fixers found some schools are not playing their part in recognising the pressures young people are under when dealing with matters of sexual harassment and sexual bullying.

Charlotte, 18, told Fixers: "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."

Gemma, 22, said: "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."

The Committee's probe into sexual violence in schools runs until May 22, and will investigate the scope of the problem, whether levels are increasing, the impact of online sexual bullying, to what extent teachers are the target for harassment, and what can be done to combat the situation.

Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Sarah Green, welcomed the first parliamentary inquiry into the problem.

"This behaviour is endemic and it stops girls feeling safe and achieving their best at school. 

"When teachers and school leaders do not challenge sexual harassment, boys and girls observe and learn that sexual harassment is acceptable. Girls learn that they are supposed to put up with it in school and beyond, while boys are given a message that they can get away with it. It is likely to create a context where more serious assaults are both more likely to happen and less likely to be reported," Ms Green said.