Leering, jeering and ‘dick pics’: UK report finds sexual harassment ‘normalised’ in schools

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A government report has found that nine out of 10 schoolgirls in the UK know someone who’s been subjected to sexist abuse. The report blames a “normalised” culture of sexual harassment, but technology also plays a role.

The report, released by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) on Thursday, found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become “normalised” for children and teenagers in the UK’s schools.

Ofsted inspectors visited 32 schools and spoke to 900 students in April, and found that nine out of 10 girls said sexist name-calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened “a lot” or “sometimes.” An equal number of girls and half the boys surveyed said that explicit pictures – “dick pics” – were sent to them or their classmates regularly.

Sexual Abuse Review: https://t.co/uG5T7Q0vLA 'This review shocked me. It’s alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up. They simply don’t feel it’s worth reporting' Amanda Spielman, HMCI pic.twitter.com/armurMcrPF

— Ofsted (@Ofstednews) June 10, 2021

Three-quarters of girls said that they were pressured to send naked images of themselves, with one telling inspectors that boys “just won’t take no for an answer.” Nearly six in 10 said they or their female classmates had been photographed without their consent, and over half said these photographs were then circulated without their knowledge. Boys also said they were on the receiving end of such behaviour, but to a lesser extent than girls.

Students subjected to this harassment often don’t report it to teachers and staff, the report found, citing concerns about police involvement, reputational damage or worries that their complaint would go nowhere. This behaviour is apparently so commonplace that inspectors advised school staff to “act on the assumption” that it’s happening in their schools, even if students aren’t speaking up.

“This is a cultural issue; it’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can’t solve that by themselves,” Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said. She recommended that the government do more to tackle online bullying and abuse, and advised schools to “maintain the right culture in their corridors.”

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Some of the behaviour highlighted in the report is age-old: leering, jeering, unwanted touching and “pressure to do sexual things.” The majority of girls said that these issues occurred “a lot” or “sometimes” in their schools. Even two decades ago, Ofsted noted that bullying in schools often had a sexual component, and girls were frequently subjected to “innuendo or outright abuse” in the classroom. Surveys taken more than a decade ago found that sexual harassment in schools was “routing and unquestioned.”

What has changed since the early 2000s is the prevalence of smartphones and messaging apps. The latest Ofsted report specifically highlighted WhatsApp and Snapchat as the platforms most commonly used for sharing explicit material. Studies from around the world have linked smartphones with bullying, and Snapchat in particular has been highlighted as a problem app by the British government.

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