I am currently reading Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism and I’ve got to tell you there are some pretty shocking facts and figures throughout the book that make for some difficult reading. The book follows commentary by Laura around submissions to the Twitter handle @EverydaySexism
where women share their experiences of sexism in their everyday lives. Time and time again reports from school age girls come in about sexual harassment and rape. A new report out today from the UK Govt. Women and Equalities Committee is asking for more Sex and Relationship Education within schools. Is it needed? What exactly *is* needed? Is the simple answer to teach kids not to touch each other at all?
Statistics from the BBC found that over a three year period there was an average of one rape every day in a school in the UK. For starters I find that hard to believe but only because I don’t want to believe it. There is no main area for this sort of data to be collected which sadly means the picture is clouded and that issues are easily overlooked or simply ignored. Here are some statistics in the report I really want to share to help me make my point include:
59% of girls and young women aged 13–21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.
Almost a third (29%) of 16–18-year-old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16–18-year-olds (boys and girls) say they hear sexual name-calling with terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a daily basis or a few times a week.
28% of 16–18-year-olds say they have seen sexual pictures on mobile phones at school a few times a month or more.
It wasn’t like that in my day
Or was it? I started secondary school 13 years ago. We had cases of bullying, rivalry, one-up-man-ship, jealousy etc. but every school has that. You put a group of kids together this is what you get. In my 7 years of secondary education I can only think of one particularly incident which involved semi-nude pictures of a girl in my year being sent around the school when we were about 15 or 16 years old. The finer details evade me but I remember the group of girls that did it and the girl in question, note how the perpetrators in my memory are girls here not boys although I am sure they were instrumental in some way. I also remember a lot of onus of the act being put on the victim rather than the girls who shared the image. I’ve always been of the view that if you don’t want to run the risk of photographs of yourself getting in to the wrong hands then don’t take them, but I am equally of the view that if you choose to take them you shouldn’t have the fear of them being paraded around so openly and out of your control. Now this isn’t rape but on balance is it still not an acceptable act and one which I would categorise as a form of sexual harassment.
Am I naive enough to think that this sort of stuff didn’t go on a little more than I can remember? Of course not, but there are big differences, technological advances and more liberal parenting now which has significantly changed the goal posts. I didn’t have an internet accessible phone when I was 13 and Facebook wasn’t really a thing either, not in the league it is today. It was all myspace and msn where your username was some obscure lyric from a song you thought made you look cool. Life was different when I was at school and no doubt very to when my parents were at school too.
Who’s fault is all this?
Those anti-femisits out there, if you’ve even managed to read this far, will be banging the drum about how one sided my arguments are and how ‘boys get harassed too’ and they do but it is much less likely and as a cis female I find it difficult to write from any other point of view so you are stuck with my views and opinions. The issue is that overwhelmingly it is young women and girls who are still the main target for sexual violence and harassment online and in the playground and the perpetrators of all forms of online sexual harassment are most frequently young men.
Sadly with a lack of further research or evidence it is difficult to bang any other drum as much as I would like to.
The blame finger is pointing firmly to pornography too. Its accessibility and its content is usually unfavourable to the woman involved. Young people and especially those at school age, through a lack of education and guidance, see porn as their only ‘proper’ lesson in SexEd. MP’s have already called SexEd in schools inadequate with teaching nothing more than the biology of sex in terms of reproduction. Young people are interested, or intrigued to say the least, and they therefore go looking for what they think they want to find out and this is where they find hard-core pornography (often titled as amateur) which even I can find uncomfortable to watch. They don’t understand that porn is an adult ‘movie’ – there’s no actual reality in that. I recently watched a documentary about a girl who worked in the industry and the behind the scenes shots are most definitely not what you get to see in the final cut. Unless we get this message across to young people this becomes their only learning resource and for some it’s a scary and daunting prospect of their adult life.
Thats not to even begin the debate on the lack of LGBT Sex and Relationship Education. There is simply nothing in schools to help young people understand, accept or even learn about these types of relationships.
In one extract form the Everyday Sexism Project a girl speaks of how she is actually scared to grow up due to the fact that she will have to have sex. Boys grow up thinking this is what you do to women and women grow up thinking this is what has to be done to them. It’s just not right. The cycle can have very scary consequences which many will then take into their adult lives.
The Future of Sex in our Schools
The report has highlighted a few things. The implementation of just a few slight changes could really make a difference in curbing this problem or at least get some key messages out there.
Schools need a holistic approach in tackling this. They need support from school governors, parents, youth organisations and the government. The focus must be to prevent and actively respond to all forms of sexual violence and harassments in schools. Puberty can cause us to struggle with our sexuality, our intrigues, our desirers and therefore it’s only natural that the majority of this struggle will manifest itself at school. Schools need to tackle this issue head on and in order to do this schools “need high quality, age appropriate lessons“. With the number of teenage pregnancies on the increase in the UK it’s clear the basic biology of sex is not enough. We need to teach young people about consent, about disease, about expectations. I’m not saying we give every 14 year old a pack of condoms and a copy of the Karma Sutra but we need to give them the tools and the understanding that sex something to be enjoyed by consenting adults.
Schools need to be held accountable for confronting the growing problems of sexual violence in schools. They need to be more reactive to claims and have a hard line approach on perpetrators. Personally I think all children in schools need to be taught, from their first day in the classroom, that it is not ok for somebody to touch you in any way in which you do not feel comfortable. We teach our children not to kick or punch one another surely this is the message in which to build upon.
If you are UK based and feel even a little bit as passionate about this as I do there is a Change.org petition you can sign to ask the UK government to make Sex and Relationship Education compulsory in all schools. You can find more details and sign the petition here: