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Understanding sexism and sexual harassment

Supporting staff and pupils to understand sexism and sexual harassment

Sexism and sexual bullying affect both boys and girls, men and women.  Boys may be targets as well as girls, and both sexes may be targets of others who share the same sex. However, sexism and harassment are noted more with females and a third of young females (11-21 years old) have experienced controlling or bullying behaviour from their partners.5

 Sexism and sexual bullying may be characterised by name-calling, comments and overt looks about appearance, attractiveness and emerging puberty.  It therefore goes beyond normal and acceptable ‘fancying’ to a level that makes an individual feel harassed.

It’s important to be aware of Misogyny, the extreme hatred and contempt for women.

There are lots of suggestions and guidance on what establishments can do to prevent and support children with sexism and sexual harassment.  Providing sufficient training to staff so that they can identify signs of sexism and sexual harassment is the first step.   Also having this area of education committed into your curriculum will go a long way to prevention and respect.

Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges DfE guidance, outlines a whole establishment approach, the responsibilities and what they should be aware of:

  • sexual violence and sexual abuse can happen anywhere, and all staff working with children are advised to maintain an attitude of ‘it could happen here’.
  • establishments should be aware of, and respond appropriately to all reports and concerns, including those outside the establishment, and or online.
  • establishments should be aware of the importance of making it clear that there is a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and sexual harassment, and it is never acceptable, it will not be tolerated and it should never be passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh”, “part of growing up” or “boys being boys”. Challenging physical behaviour (potentially criminal in nature), such as grabbing bottoms, breasts and genitalia, pulling down trousers, flicking bras and lifting up skirts.  Dismissing or tolerating such behaviours risks normalising them.
  • not recognising, acknowledging or understanding the scale of harassment and abuse and/or downplaying some behaviours related to abuse as it can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviour, an unsafe environment and in worst case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it.
  • understanding that all of the above can be driven by wider societal factors beyond the establishment, such as everyday sexist stereotypes and everyday sexist language.

Gender Based Violence Continuum Source 18

Children with additional needs

 Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are three times more likely to be abused than their peers.13  Additional barriers can sometimes exist when recognising abuse in SEND children. These can include

  • assumptions that indicators of possible abuse such as behaviour, mood and injury relate to the child’s disability without further exploration.
  • the potential for children with SEND being disproportionately impacted by behaviours such as bullying and harassment, without outwardly showing any signs
  • communication barriers and difficulties overcoming these barriers. Any reports of abuse involving children with SEND will therefore require close liaison with the designated safeguarding lead (or deputy) and the SENCO.

Bullying, prejudice and racism incidents (BPRI) resource 2022

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