Women’s Aid ‘deeply disappointed’ at government response to sexual harassment and violence in schools report
“Organisations like Women’s Aid cannot be expected to fill a gap that means the basic human rights of young women and girls in the UK are being undermined on a daily basis”
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“Women’s Aid is deeply disappointed that the government is not acting on the recommendation of the sobering report into sexual harassment in schools from the Women and Equalities Committee: that every child has access to statutory, age-appropriate sex and relationship’s education (SRE). If we do not address the root causes of violence against women and girls through education, and tackle the prevailing attitudes and misogyny that underpin it, we have no hope of ever reducing it.
“The government has stated that ‘existing statutory duties and guidance on equalities, safeguarding, curriculum and behaviour’, with updated guidance, are enough. But we know this is not the case. Without a clear directive from government, there is no obligation for schools to prioritise this or adopt the recommended ‘whole school approach’. Statutory SRE is needed to keep girls safe now, and prevent violence against women and girls in the future. We had hoped the new government would have driven action on the issue as a priority. Failing to do so undermines the commitment to preventing violence and abuse as set out in the VAWG Strategy 2016-2020.
“The body of evidence is very alarming. More than half of girls in British schools and colleges have faced sexual harassment. Sexual bullying had become a common – indeed, an expected – part of girls’ everyday lives. Almost a third of 16 to 18 year-olds have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. The Select Committee concluded that ‘the government has no coherent plan to ensure schools tackle the causes or consequences of sexual harassment and sexual violence’.
“The government state that they will update guidance on safeguarding and bullying with a new ‘sexual harassment and sexual violence sector advisory group’, who will work with the Department of Education. Specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence organisations, including Women’s Aid, must be included in the advisory group to ensure that education effectively tackles abuse, and supports young people to understand healthy relationships. We are concerned that the government frame this as a behaviour, bulling and safeguarding issue – and not a gendered issue of sexual violence, harassment and abuse.
“Women’s Aid runs the Safer Futures project that builds networks between local schools, specialist domestic violence services, and Local Authorities, to ensure that healthy relationships education is delivered responsibly and effectively. We also launched Love Don’t Feel Bad earlier this year: a set of resources to educate teenagers on coercive control, as well as a coercive control toolkit for parents of teenagers and young people. But organisations such as Women’s Aid cannot be expected to fill a gap that means the basic human rights of young women and girls in the UK are being undermined on a daily basis”.