A recent OFSTED report on sexual harassment in schools and colleges examined the extent of sexual harassment in schools, but to my mind it tells us very little about the actual extent of sexual harassment in schools.
The researchers visited 32 schools and colleges and interviewed 900 students about their experiences of sexual harassment, and at first glance the results look pretty bleak, but you need to be VERY CAREFUL with what these results tell us.
They tell us the perception of sexual harassment, not the actual rates of sexual harassment.
Girls’ perception of sexual harassment in schools
The following types of sexual harassment were reported as happening ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’ to ‘people my age’
- sexist name-calling (92%)
- rumours about their sexual activity (81%)
- unwanted or inappropriate comments of a sexual nature (80%)
- sexual assault of any kind (79%)
- feeling pressured to do sexual things that they did not want to (68%)
- unwanted touching (64%)
Girls’ Perception of Sexual harassment online
And the perceived extent of sexual harassment online…
- being sent pictures or videos they did not want to see (88%)
- being put under pressure to provide sexual images of themselves (80%)
- having pictures or videos that they sent being shared more widely without their knowledge or consent (73%)
- being photographed or videoed without their knowledge or consent (59%)
- having pictures or videos of themselves that they did not know about being circulated (51%)
The problem is in the wording of the questions….
Students were basically asked ‘how bad is sexual harassment among all people my age’ and, for example 88% of girls say that ‘being sent pictures they don’t want to see is common among people my age’.
This isn’t the same as ‘88% of female students have received pictures they didn’t want’.
All this research tells us is about teenage girls’ perceptions of sexual harassment among their peers, not the actual rate of sexual harassment.
The report also found that many girls think schools are completely ineffective at dealing with cases of sexual harassment.
So teenage girls think there’s a lot of sexual harassment, but is there?
It is worth knowing that teenage girls THINK there’s a lot of sexual harassment going on, but is there?
But having read the report i’m left wanting to know the ACTUAL extent of sexual harassment, which is much more difficult to measure of course.
I guess ethics got in the way of OFSTED doing real research
I get it, asking young people about their ACTUAL PERSONAL EXPERIENCES of sexual harassment isn’t something you can do just by rocking up for a day or two and doing a few interviews.
So instead OFSTED have got around this by generalising the questions.
The problem is ‘90% of girls thinking that sexual harassment of some kind occurs in their school’ – that really tells us NOTHING about the extent of the problem.
It’s a bleak topic, matched by the bleak pointlessness of this research.