photo Paul Mattsson

photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Jane Nellist, Coventry National Education Union

Reading the anonymous posts about young women’s experiences on the new website, ‘Everyone’s Invited’, of which there are nearly 14,000, is shocking and heart-breaking.

Mainly young women have posted their experiences of sexual attacks, including rape and sexual abuse, and widespread sexism in schools or education settings and in the wider community. Their experiences will have an impact on their future relationships and their mental health and wellbeing.

Many of the initial posts were from pupils attending private schools, but there are now also many from those in mainstream education.

Some highlight how they didn’t understand what had happened to them and are only now realising the seriousness of the assault. It’s damning evidence of life in Britain and the prevalent sexism in society today.

Pupils at Highgate School, an exclusive fee-paying school in London with fees of over £21,000, took direct action last week. They hung banners and placards outside their school and held a demonstration, demanding that their school leaders take action to protect them.

For the last two weeks, Warwick University students have been holding a sit-in on the central university campus, living in tents, and protesting about similar issues.

‘Protect Warwick Women’ has made a list of demands of the university management – they feel that three years after a horrendous ‘rape chat’ incident, not enough has been done to keep women safe.

Helpline not enough

As the Socialist previously highlighted (see ‘Fighting sexual harassment and gender violence‘), the 2017 National Education Union’s survey ‘It’s Just Everywhere’ exposed the huge issue of sexism in schools. What the personal accounts on Everyone’s Invited reveal is even darker evidence.

In response to the outcry and shocking evidence, the Department for Education has commissioned a helpline, run by the NSPCC, dedicated to supporting those who report incidents. But this is far from enough. Young women want it to stop!

The education system and the services that already exist lack the funding and resources that are urgently needed. Many schools do not have adequate safeguards and procedures in place and just one in five teachers receive training for dealing with sexual harassment.

We need to challenge the root causes of this pandemic. Much more attention must be paid to children in primary schools. These ideas start to develop early on.

But schools don’t exist in a vacuum. We also need to challenge the capitalist system itself and its inbuilt class and gender inequality.

We call for:

  • A trade union and student-led inquiry into the true extent of sexual harassment and violence in schools, colleges and universities
  • An urgent overhaul and funding of relationships and sex education, with training for all education workers, including in primary schools
  • Students to be able to discuss and learn about sexism, to report incidents, and to take action to challenge inaction
  • An increase in funding for all support services, including local councils, to ensure that victims receive support.
  • Where allegations are made, ensure a system is in place so that they are properly investigated and action taken. This should involve committees involving representatives of both staff and students
  • A socialist alternative to the inequality, sexism and violence of the capitalist profit system