Taunts, bullying… then groping: how sexual assaults are increasing in schools

Posted: 22nd February 2024

Billy (not real name) is now being home-schooled after bullying turned into physical violence.

Starting secondary school had not been easy for Billy (not his real name). What started as verbal taunts from one boy soon saw him become the target of a group of four boys. Bullying became physical violence. Yet the abuse got even worse, escalating to sexual assault. The group would corner him in the toilets and grope and touch his genitals. Unsurprisingly, Billy’s mental health quickly deteriorated. He is now being home-schooled and he struggles to leave the house because of anxiety.

Billy is receiving support from Embrace, a charity that works with children who have been the victims of crime. He says that he is starting to feel stronger, while his parents say his panic attacks and nightmares are receding thanks to the support he is getting. However, what he experienced was part of an increase in “peer-on-peer abuse” that is worrying schools, police and professionals who work with young people.

Billy’s experience was unusual in that most abuse is carried out by boys against girls. But what he faced is part of a range of behaviours that appears to be getting worse. Research into police records by the Observer found a steep increase in reports of sexual assault and rape in England and Wales since 2019. By 2022, the figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed a 40% increase – with an even greater increase in reports of incidents on school property.

Police and the government have launched a series of initiatives over the last few years as concern over the issue has increased. However, the ubiquity of smartphones – and the access to pornography and viral misogynistic content that they provide – are regularly cited as a driver of some alarming behaviour.

Kate Parker, who is the founder of the Schools Consent Project, which has held sessions with thousands of pupils about consent, said that while sexual assaults were the most serious form of abuse, she was hearing more reports of online sexual harassment too. She is also worried about some of the views she has heard from young men.

“Over the nine years we’ve been going, I’d hope to hear views getting more progressive,” she said. “That’s not what we’re seeing. A lot of young people are being exposed to extremist views and it’s having an impact on their view of the world – things like ‘a girl shouldn’t be dressed that way’. That if a girl has X amount of skin on show, she really is asking for it. Things like rape and sexual violence can’t happen in the context of a relationship. It’s shocking.”

Police are watching closely to see if the new Online Safety Act, designed to clamp down on damaging content, will have an impact. Parker believes that teachers need more support to challenge views. Clare Kelly, associate head of policy at the NSPCC, said that education about relationships, sex and health should have a significant role to play.

“To make this a reality, we need the government to ensure that each and every school has the resources they need to confidently deliver a high-quality curriculum,” she said.

“It’s important that children are supported to understand what healthy relationships look like and what constitutes abuse as part of a culture within schools that recognises and responds to harmful sexual behaviour, challenges misogynistic attitudes and stops inappropriate behaviour from escalating.”

Source: Taunts, bullying… then groping: how sexual assaults are increasing in schools | Rape and sexual assault | The Guardian

Categories: News