Let’s end sexual harassment in schools

As new guidance aims to tackle sexual harassment at school, advocate Liddy shares her own experiences and how they led her to campaign on the issue

Liddy, Girlguiding advocate
14 December 2017

The Department of Education has just released guidance for tackling sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools.

It’s fantastic that this has been recognised as an issue; now schools across England will be better equipped to tackle it, and it’s a step further towards wiping out sexual harassment in schools for good.

The guidance includes our Girls’ Attitudes Survey as evidence of the scale of this problem, as well as examples of sexual harassment and abuse, what schools can do to prevent it and how to respond to it.

As a Girlguiding Advocate, I’ve been part of our campaign to end sexual harassment in schools since 2016.

My fellow advocates and I used our platform to speak out; I rallied for support at the Women’s Equality party conference and wrote a blog about it for the New Statesman. Other advocates spoke on TV and radio, and went to the Scottish parliament to talk to the equalities and human rights committee. Katie made a short film about the issue, which won the John Byrne award. Our petition got almost 5,000 signatures.

The guidance also echoes our campaign call for a whole school approach that considers the needs of pupils, staff and the wider community.

Sexual harassment was rife throughout my school career

This is much needed - I left school 18 months ago and sexual harassment was rife throughout my school career. I had lewd comments shouted at me across classrooms and I was catcalled by my fellow students on my way home. On one particularly hot day, I and several of my peers had comments made about our bras, visible through our white school shirts, by the boys in our class. I witnessed girls being groped and heard my male peers make sexual remarks about members of the school on multiple occasions.

And I know that I got off lightly - since starting working on our campaign to end sexual harassment in schools, I’ve had so many people reach out to share their experiences with me. They all made me furious. One made me loudly sob in an H&M changing room. None of these women saw it for what it was - sexual harassment - like me, they all assumed it was part of school life.

Our 2017 Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise; in 2017 64% of girls aged 13-21 had experienced sexual harassment in school in the past year compared to 59% in 2014. And in the past week alone, 39% of girls aged 11-21 had seen or experienced a girl having their bra strap pulled by boys and 27% had seen girls’ skirts being pulled up by boys.

This should not be happening.

It was announced earlier this year that  relationships and sex education would be made compulsory from September 2019. I eagerly await the new curriculum; I really hope that all pupils can learn about healthy relationships, and the importance of consent and equality, as well as STIs and contraception.

I dream of a world where girls’ school experiences aren’t tainted with the daily terror of sexual harassment.

If this guidance is properly implemented, it means that schools will be equipped to treat sexual harassment as the serious matter that it is, and that our schools can be safer places that nurture learning, where every pupil can feel safe and respected.