Sarah Everard: Government considering stepping up anti-harassment education for men

Education minister Michelle Donelan says education should be about ‘developing people’s character and their interactions with others’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 12 March 2021 08:34
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The government is exploring whether anti-harassment education should be given to men in the wake of the Sarah Everard case, ministers have said.

Education minister Michelle Donelan said the school system should not just be about academia but also "developing people's character and their interactions with others".

Asked whether anti-harassment education should be introduced, she told Sky News: "This is certainly something we can look at once again."

Stressing that the disappearance and suspected murder was a "rare incident", Ms Donelan said that everybody, "whether man or woman" should feel safe walking down the street.

"I do want to assure women that our streets on the whole are safe but this is a rare incident and the Government is committed to this agenda," she told the broadcaster.

"It's important to stress that not all men are predators and we shouldn't get into that kind of language.

"But throughout our education system it's not just geared up on the academic side but also developing people's character and their interactions with others."

The minister said there "needs to be a focus" on making women feel safe in public spaces, adding:

"This is not something the Government isn't listening to, far from it."

But interviewed on the BBC she dismissed the idea that education on such sensitive issues was not already a focus. This would be "doing down the work of our amazing teachers", she said.

The minister defended a decision by the Metropolitan Police to declare a vigil for the woman unlawful under coronavirus restrictions.

"As a woman I also recognise that we're in a global pandemic and restrictions are in place to safeguard the lives of women and men," she said.

"Obviously this is a delicate subject and emotions are running high and I do understand how people, quite rightly, want to show their respects.

"It's a balance between the desire to show those respects and to mark Sarah's life and at the same time making sure we don't spread the virus. We're still in a perilous state."

The decision by the police to ban the vigil is subject to a legal challenge.

The review of education comes as a survey by UN Women this week found 97 per cent of young women in the UK said they had been sexually harassed, while 80 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces.

Researchers, who polled more than 1,000 women aged between 18 to 24, found the sexual harassment included being groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity.

While domestic abuse has surged in the wake of the Covid crisis – with the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline seeing a 34 per cent rise in contacts and calls between April and December last year compared to the same period the previous year.

Women’s fears about street harassment have also soared during the pandemic, with research finding that almost three-quarters of women are scared of exercising outside in the dark, and another study revealing young women say sexual harassment became worse during lockdown.

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