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Sexism and violence in schools is not normal

Schools should be a safe place for young people to learn, have fun and express themselves. But not all young people have this experience. This week, thousands of students have shared their stories of harassment and abuse in schools and communities. Through young people we work with, we hear how sexism, sexual bullying and even sexual violence is being normalised in schools and communities. Things need to change.  

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introduction to normalisation of sexism

Sexism or violence is not ok in any setting. But when young people tell us it happens all the time at school, it points to a real failure in society. Our children shouldn’t expect to hear misogynistic or sexual comments when they’re at lunch or walking to class. It’s not normal. At least, it shouldn’t be normal.

One of our practitioners tells us about a young person who goes to a pupil referral unit, 'there was a boy in there asking her to send photographs. The harassment was so bad she wouldn't go to school in the end.'

She hasn’t been in school for absolutely ages.

well-being and sexism

illustration of girl alone in bedroom sitting on bed

Culture of sexual jokes

And it is not a new thing. Our well-being research uncovered a worrying trend in schools in 2018.

42% of 10-17 year olds said jokes or comments about other pupil's sexual activity happened ‘often’ or ‘all the time’ at school.

We also found that these comments affected girls’ well-being more than boys. In particular, how they felt about their appearance. Children were on average happier with their appearance in schools where there were no comments or jokes about sexual behaviour.

Online porn and what it means for relationships

Similar to how gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity can be reinforced through the media and online content, the normalisation of sexual violence can be linked to the accessibility of online porn.

Children should learn about relationships in a safe way. Unfortunately, reliable sex education isn't always available to them. But pornography and inappropriate adult content is. It gives them a distorted understanding of sexual relationships and things like consent. 

Young people tell us how nude pictures are sent around the school by boys. They don't tell the teachers, so they can't do anything. It is very damaging for the young girls’ self-esteem and mental health. 

We see it all too often in our sexual exploitation work where we have to rebuild young people’s understanding of what it means to be in a healthy relationship.

Access to the internet is giving a false story of what is ‘normal’ or acceptable behaviour.

Right to Say No animation

Right To Say No, animation about an unhealthy relationship

Putting a stop to sexual abuse in schools

Young people tell us that schools often don’t do enough to stop sexual abuse or support victims. But it's not just a schools issue. It affects whole communities. 

If young people are acting in sexually harmful ways, this behaviour needs to be addressed early before it escalates into serious crimes such as rape.

Our practitioner says, 'it starts from having those honest conversations around sex and healthy relationships. Too often teachers see relationships and sex education as a tick-box exercise and find it awkward but we will go into schools and have those open conversations. It’s about better education and resources for school staff on sexual abuse, but also for children, parents and everyone in society and about people learning to respect one another.'

It's having a safe place to have those conversations.