UK schools plagued by sexual harassment: Watchdog

Stock online class
Online class Image Credit: Shutterstock

London: UK schools are failing to protect children from unwanted explicit photos, videos and comments in a culture where online sexual harassment is now seen as normal, a government watchdog said Thursday.

The report by Ofsted, based on testimony from hundreds of children, was “very concerning”, Education Minister Gavin Williamson tweeted.

Despite the scale of the problem, school heads and teachers “consistently underestimated the prevalence of online sexual abuse,” the schools inspection body said.

The report comes after the Everyone’s Invited website posted thousands of anonymous accounts of sexual abuse and harassment at British schools, drawing government attention to the problem.

“Children and young people told us that sexual harassment occurs so frequently that it has become ‘commonplace’,” said Ofsted.

Such behaviour is so common that schools should assume it is happening, whether or not children report it to teachers, Ofsted said.

“Some forms of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse have become so normalised for children that they do not see the point in reporting and challenging this behaviour,” it said.

Almost 90 per cent of girls and nearly 50 per cent of boys said they or their peers regularly received unwanted explicit photos and videos, it said. “Sexist name-calling”, including use of words like “slag” and “slut”, happens often, according to 92 percent of girls.

Such behaviour included sharing porn videos and photographs of male genitalia on social media such as Snapchat, it said. Those aged 16 and over were more likely to report such experiences.

Ofsted said it drew on comments by more than 900 children at 32 schools and colleges, including some named by Everyone’s Invited. That site was set up in March by Soma Sara, a young graduate who attended a top private school, and now includes more than 15,000 testimonies.

Sex education lessons should include discussions of issues such as consent and sending of nude images, the watchdog recommended.

The watchdog acknowledged, however, that children being exposed to pornography and pressured to send nude selfies was “a much wider problem than schools can address,” calling on the government to focus on protecting children in a planned Online Safety Bill.

The UK education minister said the government was giving extra support to safeguarding staff and increasing guidance on relationships, health and sex education.