Content warning: sexual harassment, assault, rape
Pupils of Highgate School staged a walkout last Thursday, March 22nd over allegations that the school upholds a ‘rape culture’. Credit: Reuters
Earlier this month, a poll conducted by YouGov revealed that 97% of women in the UK have been subjected to sexual harassment. 86% of women said that they have been sexually harassed in public spaces, yet only now is one of the biggest public spaces in which young girls face sexual harassment coming under scrutiny: schools.
Dept. Supt. Mel Laremore has deemed sexual harassment in schools a “national issue”, and the Government has asked Ofsted to conduct an immediate review of safeguarding policies in schools. This comes after over 10,000 reports of harassment, assault and even rape have been reported to Everyone’s Invited, a campaign website which encourages victims to anonymously share their experiences and name the schools in which they took place.
It may come as no surprise to women and girls around the country that there have been over 10,000 stories shared on Everyone’s Invited, and Dept. Supt. Laremore is correct in saying that this is an issue that extends further than private schools. Rape culture is institutionalised in all types of schools, both private and public, nationwide. A lack of safeguarding in schools means that girls around the country have to suffer the consequences of the culture every day.
Rape culture does not have to be explicit sexual assault. Rape culture is walking faster down the corridor so you are not in front of boys who will grope you on your way to assembly. Rape culture is being scared to walk down a corridor alone if you see a group of boys approaching, incase of the likely scenario that they will make an overtly sexual comment towards you for their own amusement. Rape culture is instilling into young girls that this is behaviour they should expect and shrug off because ‘boys will be boys’.
The UK Government reported in 2016 that “sexual harassment and violence is normalised [in schools], with victims less likely to identify behaviour as abusive and therefore less likely to report it”. It is clear that the same conclusions were reached five years ago as today, yet schools would rather protect their reputations and their male student populations than admit that there is a problem and be at the forefront of fixing it. For senior members of staff, the pressure to maintain a school’s reputation means that making accusations go away is more important than helping victims. The real problem is the trauma that the victims in these situations will suffer, and the lack of attention or proper care tells them that forgetting what has happened is the way to deal with it. Perpetrators know that what they’re doing is wrong, but what is apparent is that they are not going to face significant repercussions. This becomes the safety net that encourages bad behaviour.The Government may say now is time for change, but the truth is that change is long overdue, and the forgotten victims are the girls who have been put on the back burner and told that healing is their own responsibility because that is what’s most convenient for the schools that they attend. Thanks to campaigns like Everyone’s Invited, long overdue action is being taken to reassure victims that rape culture will not be upheld or tolerated any longer.