3 things that girls need when reporting sexual harassment at school

How should teachers respond when girls need support? As part of our Advocates' campaign to end sexual harrassment in schools, one young member, 16, shares her personal story - and shows that there's still a huge lack of guidance for teachers to do the right thing

Young member, 16
14 October 2016

There is nothing worse than having the courage to speak out at school about sexual harassment, only to be met with indifference and even victim blaming

'Get over it', 'It’s not serious' and 'You’re just being silly' are not things girls ever need to hear when talking about their experiences – let alone from teachers who are in positions of trust and power.

Unfortunately, such reactions are not uncommon. Some schools are great at handling reports of sexual harassment. But without proper guidance, many teachers are failing to respond in the right way - despite the fact they may want to. 

That’s why the Girlguiding Advocates are calling for a whole-school approach, where all school staff are trained to listen to and support girls. And from my experience, there are three key things girls need when reporting sexual harassment.

Schools need to ... take girls seriously 

The only time I have seen my school taking harassment and abuse seriously is when an adult was accused.

Last year, a teacher started at my school who made many girls - including myself - feel really uncomfortable. When I found out that it wasn’t just me who was affected, I decided to report what I’d heard – especially since many of my friends were nervous about talking to anyone.

When I went to my Head of Year, I was terrified she would turn me away or tell me nothing could be done. Instead, she took me extremely seriously, telling me exactly how she would go about dealing with it. The teacher in question did not return to school after the Christmas holidays.

While it’s clear that many schools like mine take harassment and abuse by teachers very seriously, the same cannot be said when it’s by someone our own age. Schools have a lot of guidance about how to deal with abuse from teachers, but many have very little when it comes to dealing with peer-on-peer situations.

We need what we say to be listened to and acted upon when we report anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe – including harassment from other pupils.

Schools need to ... help us identify harrassment 

Some harassment has become such a normal part of life for girls like me, that sometimes it can be confusing and difficult for us to identify. For example, recently, boys in my year were looking at porn online and would sometimes show it to girls at break in order to make us uncomfortable.

I was pretty upset by what I saw, but my friends told me that there was nothing I could do about it. This was reinforced when a teacher saw this happening and completely ignored what was going on.

For too many people, this kind of thing is still seen as ‘banter’. Schools should be educating both pupils and teachers on what sexual harassment is, so no one is forced to put up with it.

Schools need to ... be supported

Teachers want to be able to do the right thing. But they can’t do this if governments don't support them or give any advice.

The only way we can stamp out sexual harassment in our education system is from the top down – with governments providing training for teachers and guidance for schools on how to take a zero-tolerance approach.

This is what the Girlguiding Advocates are campaigning for - and you can help to make it a reality. Please take a minute to sign the petition, and tweet your views using the hashtag #SexualHarrassmentinSchools.

Let’s show decision-makers that they need to take action – because when teachers act in a supportive and informed way, we will create a safer environment for everyone in our schools.

Sign the petition

Join the Advocates in calling on education minsters in England, Scotland and Wales to take action to prevent and tackle sexual harassment in all schools.