“My best friend got her breasts grabbed in our class when she was 12.” So begins just one of hundreds of similar entries to the Everyday Sexism Project from girls describing groping, harassment and assault, either on their journey to school or at school from male peers.
“Yesterday at school I was sat at a desk working, and didn’t notice a male friend of mine take a picture of my breasts”, another entry begins. “The only reason I found out is because he [sent] the picture to various other guys from my school, having edited it so that my breasts were circled”.
The evidence isn’t just anecdotal. A 2010 YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women Coalition revealed that almost one in three 16 to 18-year-old girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school, while sexual name calling such as “slut” or “slag” is routine. And a recent Freedom of Information request made by The Independent revealed that more than 1,000 alleged sexual offences in schools, including 134 rapes, were recorded by police in 2013. Over half were committed by other children.
Ongoing scandals like the recent revelations in Rotherham reveal a desperate need to address attitudes towards women and girls, and the normalisation of abuse. Meanwhile, from Robin Thicke’s chart-topper “Blurred Lines” to online pornography to Page 3, young people are bombarded with negative and confusing messages about sex and relationships. That’s why the Everyday Sexism Project and the End Violence Against Women Coalition have launched a campaign calling all party leaders to commit to making Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory as part of Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, covering vital issues such as healthy relationships, sexual consent and online pornography.
Some schools do tackle these issues, but provision is patchy. A 2011 study by sexual health charity Brook found that 22 per cent of 14 to 18-year-olds rated their SRE as “poor or very poor” and over a quarter said they didn’t get any SRE in school at all. And a Mumsnet survey found that 92 per cent of members think SRE should be a compulsory subject in secondary schools. This is too important to leave to chance.
Laura Bates is founder of The Everyday Sexism Project