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Campaign for sexual harassment education in schools
Courtesy Our Streets Now

Meet the students fighting for sexual harassment education in schools

Sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton, who run Our Streets Now, have launched a new campaign to raise awareness and tackle stigma surrounding public sexual harassment

Last year, sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton launched Our Streets Now, a campaign to make street harassment a criminal offence in the UK. Speaking to Dazed in March, the pair said legislation was needed to denormalise sexual harassment, which many women and girls see as a “horrible but inevitable part of (their) lives”.

Now, Maya and Gemma are turning their attention to education with their Our Schools Now initiative, which aims to get public sexual harassment added to the curriculum in UK schools. “We need to make sure that the next generation of children in the UK understand the prevalence and impact of public sexual harassment,” the sisters said in a press release. 

As part of the campaign, Maya and Gemma have shared resources for teachers, which include lesson plans on harassment and discussion worksheets, as well as for students, which include a template letter urging schools to add sexual harassment to their PSHE or newly-launched RSE lessons.

The sisters have also released a report, based on an in-depth survey with over 150 students and recent school leavers. The report found that 64 per cent of pupils have never been taught about public sexual harassment at school, despite statistics showing that 66 per cent of girls aged 14 to 21 have experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in public.

Students cited a number of reasons for wanting harassment education in schools, including: to deter boys from becoming perpetrators, to tackle victim-blaming, to encourage reporting, and to raise awareness of the extent and severity of the problem.

47 per cent of students said they wouldn’t report an incident of harassment to their school either because they wouldn’t know how or because they didn’t think they’d be taken seriously. Of the 41 pupils who said they had reported sexual harassment to their teachers, just seven said they received a positive or helpful response, and four said they were met with victim blaming.

“Their response was for me to ignore the boys that were groping me because ‘boys will be boys’”

One student said her school’s response to her report “was for me to ignore the boys that were groping me because ‘boys will be boys’.

Another added: “It did very little when I spoke to the teacher whose class it occurred in, and I got the impression she was scared of challenging the boys’ behaviour.”

19-year-old Jess, who recently left school in Cheshire, said that “travelling to and from school became a trip that was uncomfortable”. She continued: “I remember walking back from school in year nine, and these guys drove past and honked their horn and shouted at me. At the time, I was so upset, uncomfortable, and embarrassed, and immediately blamed myself. Looking back, I know how beneficial it would have been to have been taught about public sexual harassment (in school).”

As well as calling for education about public sexual harassment to be added to the curriculum, Maya and Gemma are urging schools to educate and train their staff, and take action when students report harassment that happens both in and out of school.

The sisters concluded: “The rise of online and offline abuse as a consequence of the pandemic must not be allowed to further proliferate with the reduction of adequate sex education in response to schools being under pressure because of COVID-19.”

Following a landmark ruling last year, as of this month, the Department of Education has made LGBTQ+ inclusive relationships and sex education (RSE) compulsory in all English schools, with institutions being given until summer 2021 to put it into practice.

Read about the Our Schools Now campaign here, and sign Maya and Gemma’s petition to make public street harassment a crime in the UK here.