Of the women who experienced some form of abuse nearly half reported that it was a frequent occurence during their school years. Further 60 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual contact never reported it.
Abuse at school seemed to affect younger women more frequently than older women. Of survey respondents over the age of 65 one in 10 had experienced abuse while one in three respondents aged between 18 to 24 reported such contact.
While this indicates that abuse may be increasing over time, Lucy Russell, Plan UK campaign manager, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the long-standing existence of unwanted sexual contact in schools shows that the behaviour is not new. It is entrenched.
“This is a behaviour that girls have been told to expect. They’re being told… you should just put up with it.
“It also means that we may have grandmothers and mothers who also haven’t reported what was going on. So you’ve got a really extensive scale of hidden violence and sexual assault that’s not being talked about.
“It’s happened for generations. But this is the generation where it needs to stop.”
She also said, “School should be a completely safe space. When sexual harassment happens in schools, it dramatically reduces girls’ ability to engage in all of their opportunities.”
While the survey focused on the experiences of U.K. women, Russell pointed out that this is a global issue. Sexual abuse is one reason why 66 million girls worldwide do not attend school.
Research collated by the University College of London suggests that sexual abuse offenders in a school setting are most likely to be adolescent males. The offenders are usually unremarkable and seem ordinary, which attests to Russell’s view that such behaviour is entrenched. Girls are twice as likely to be victims as boys.
The documents explain, “the most likely problem will be abuse among students themselves. This is because there will usually be many more students than staff, and particularly in high schools because many students will have reached or be approaching puberty and will not yet have established adequate behavioural controls.”
UCL points out that very little research has been done on implementing strategies to decrease the rate of unwanted sexual contact in schools, although it suggests that making it more difficult to commit the crime and to do so undetected, as well as removing excuses for the behaviour, may be policies to help schools actively address this widespread problem.