Rise in sexual harassment at Scottish schools needs urgent action on access to porn, say campaigners

Campaigners fighting to have age restrictions placed on online pornography sites have said new reports of sexual assaults and harassment in Scottish schools underline the need for urgent action.

Campaigners want age restrictions on online pornography.
Campaigners want age restrictions on online pornography.

Analysis of the website Everyone’s Invited, set up to allow women and girls to report abuse anonymously, revealed disturbing testimonies from girls at more than 120 Scottish primary and secondary schools and ten universities.

It comes after a separate study by English schools’ regulator Ofsted earlier this month, which also found disturbing behaviour across schools south of the border, with a warning that sexual harassment has been “normalised” among school-aged children.

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Ofsted has now said teachers must assume sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are occurring in and around their schools and colleges even when there are no specific reports and is encouraging a "whole school" approach to address sexual harm.

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The Everyone’s Invited site offers a platform for victims of sexual abuse to share their stories anonymously.

Among more than 50,000 testimonies, 110 high schools and colleges, and 17 primary schools in Scotland have been named. There have also been ten Scottish universities identified as places where girls and women have experienced sexual assault and harassment.

Calls have been made for the Scottish Government to take action amid the staggering number of incidents.

Mary Glasgow, chief executive of Children 1st, said there was a “need for a national review” as too many schools “downplay or dismiss young women’s experiences of sexual harassment instead of keeping them safe”.

Campaigners looking to have age restrictions placed on porn sites to bar access by those under 18 said the sexual harassment revelations increased the need for action.

Michael Veitch, parliamentary officer at charity CARE for Scotland, claimed pornography was a motivator of harassment and called for concrete action by legislators.

“It’s truly distressing to learn that girls, from primary age to university level in Scotland, are being subjected to harassment and assaults,” he said.

"But is it any wonder given that, from a young age, boys can freely access pornography online that fetishizes rape and abuse, and objectifies women?”

“A growing catalogue of evidence confirms that porn is a major factor in rape culture.

"It is long past time politicians acted to prevent children and young people accessing it. We call on politicians to back age verification measures and provide for strict regulation of porn sites as a start.”

Earlier this month, a Savanta poll commissioned by CARE found that eight in ten UK adults want politicians to implement age verification controls for access to online pornography. The same proportion of adults also said there should be an age limit of 18 for access to pornography sites.

Mr Veitch said: “We urge the Scottish Government to demand that UK ministers implement part three of the Digital Economy Act without delay and ensure safeguards be in place to protect children and women in Scotland as well as England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Responding to the Everyone’s Invited revelations about Scottish schools, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We are determined to ensure children receive high-quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in schools as an integral part of the health and wellbeing of the school curriculum.”

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