Demand for review into sexual harassment in Scottish schools

Scotland’s education authorities should launch a review into the scale of sexual harassment and abuse in schools and colleges, taking a lead from a similar inquiry in England, according to the Scottish Greens.

The Department for Education review was launched following a wave of anonymous testimonies from sexual assault survivors submitted from across the UK to the “Everyone’s Invited” website and amid police concerns the revelations were the “tip of the iceberg”.

Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons education select committee, also called for a ‘full independent inquiry’ after the allegations became public, with more than 8,000 allegations of sexual violence and abuse made by school pupils on the website by the end of March.

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Tributes to murdered Sarah Everard in Glasgow. Her death sparked a deluge of allegations about sexual violence in schools and colleges to the Everyone's Invited website.

Now the Scottish Greens have said a similar inquiry should be conducted in Scotland, with the party’s education spokesperson Ross Greer pointing to many of the testimonies on the website coming from Scotland.

He said: “To its credit, the UK Department for Education has acted decisively in response to these disturbing allegations by launching this review. It is essential that Scotland immediately follows this approach. Sexual abuse and harassment in schools is certainly not a problem unique to England.

“Many of the survivor testimonies submitted to ‘Everyone’s Invited’ have come from Scotland, making it clear that a sector-wide review is necessary here as well.”

Soma Sara, founder of the Everyone's Invited website, has said "rape culture" is a problem for all schools and the initial focus on fee-paying schools risked minimising the issue, which she said was happening across the UK.

“When we narrow our focus on a school, a demographic or as an individual, we risk making these cases seem like anomalies,” she said. “But this isn’t rare, it happens all the time.”

A report by End Violence Against Women from 2016 found “endemic levels of sexual violence and harassment in schools”, with 5,500 sexual offences reported to the police as having taken place in UK schools over a three-year period to July 2015, including 600 rapes.

Girlguiding Scotland also found, in 2018, that just over 21 per cent of girls and young women in Scotland aged 13 to 25 experienced sexual harassment at school, college or university.

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, child protection lead on the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has blamed the "volume of pornographic material that's being consumed".

"There's an erosion of an understanding of what normal sexual relationships look like," he said.

Mr Greer added: "Violence against women and girls is endemic in our society and it is clear that a number of schools are not offering pupils the protections they deserve. Some appear more concerned with protecting their own reputation than their students, which in turn makes it less likely that survivors will come forward in the future.

"While sexual abuse disproportionately affects girls, many survivors are boys as well, for whom the stigma of being a ‘victim’ creates additional barriers to coming forward.

“We owe it to all of our young people to ensure that every school and college in Scotland is tackling sexual harassment effectively and supporting survivors with the compassion they deserve.”

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