Sex bullying `widespread' in schools

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SEXUAL BULLYING of boys by other boys is widespread in schools, according to new research. Young pupils who answer back when they are verbally bullied are likely to be beaten up, and the memory of being debagged - stripped of trousers and underpants - can cause lifelong harm.

Neil Duncan of Wolverhampton University will highlight the suffering endured by boys at a conference on sexual diversity and human rights starting today at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Mr Duncan observed and interviewed boys and girls aged 11 to 16 in five big comprehensive co-educational schools. He argues that homophobia begins at school and that sexual bullying is inextricably linked to the school system. Schools, he says, are the only institutions where close age-banding is imposed so rigorously. It makes rivalry between peers inevitable and "the rush begins to stake a claim to being normal".

Sexual bullying is usually done by older boys uncertain about their own masculinity. Taunts such as "gay", "wimp" and "dweeb", lead on to stripping, also known as "kegging". Some schools invent terms of abuse, such as "sconner" for someone with no pubic hair.

"As boys acquired their masculinised bodies, those who were insecure or unsuccessful in their social or sexual relationships frequently attempted to underline their masculinity by persecuting less mature boys, presumably to advertise by unfavourable comparison," said Mr Duncan, referring to the interviews.

He added: "It must be remembered that schools give an unrivalled opportunity for same- sex groups to observe one another naked in sports. Here boys can make fun of any, usually hidden, perceived abnormality or developmental delay, and broadcast it to others."

His paper points out that the word "gay" was not used by these boys to describe a homosexual but was a catch-all term for any trait thought to be undesirable, such as a lack of interest in sport, academic success, lack of aggression or even a show of tenderness. The boys interviewed said that they did not know anyone homosexual.

"There ought to be further discussions about what schools should be doing," he suggested. Teachers did not have the time or the skill to deal with sexual bullying. "If they talk about homosexuality they are in fear that a councillor or parent will complain. It is difficult enough for children to tell a teacher they have been bullied. How much more difficult it is to talk about sexual bullying."

Sexual Bullying: Gender Conflict in Pupil Culture, by Neil Duncan is published on 14 August by Routledge, price pounds 14.99.

What 16-Year-Olds Say About Gays

Researcher: What what you do if your best mate told you he was gay?

Carl: If he was a queer? I'd slap him, I would. I wouldn't have him coming near me.

Adie: It's right. I would do the same, not hit him, but tell our mates and we'd probably all get him. Let him know.

Researcher: Really, you would have your best mate beaten up because he is gay?

Adie: But like you say, it's what we would do but we're not gay.

Carl: If there were gay kids in this school, I'd move school.