‘Girls have been suffering in silence for decades’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Because I am a Girl: A scene from a hard-hitting film created as part of Plan UK’s campaign for girls’ safety

One in five women say they experienced unwanted sexual contact “in or around” school when they were girls – but the majority did not report it.

A poll carried out for global children’s charity Plan UK found that 22 per cent of women aged 18 and over had experienced sexual touching, groping, flashing, sexual assault or rape in UK schools in the past 70 years.

Out of more than 2,000 women surveyed, 10 per cent said the abuse had occurred “sometimes” or “frequently”.

Three in five (61 per cent) of those who had experienced abuse said they had never reported it to a teacher or anyone else in authority.

“Our findings show that schoolgirls have been suffering in silence for decades,” said Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan UK.

“We know that these experiences can have a devastating impact on their lives. Unwanted sexual contact can affect a young girl’s self-esteem and educational achievements. It stops school being a safe place to learn. Without adequate support it can affect their confidence and stop them from fulfilling their potential.

“It is extremely worrying to see that girls have been experiencing unwanted sexual contact in and around school since at least the 1940s. It’s vital that schools and teachers are better supported to help protect young people. We also need to ensure that young people are educated about healthy relationships and consent.”

Plan UK is calling for a raft of measures to tackle the issue. These include high-quality, statutory sex and relationships education to help young people understand about healthy relationships and consent, support for schools so they can address gender equality effectively, tackle stereotypes and end unwanted sexual contact and ensuring that “provisions are in place so that schools are a safe place where children can report their concerns.”

The charity, which works with children and their communities in 50 countries, has highlighted the fact that one of the main barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are missing out on education is gender-based violence, including sexual contact in or around school.

“This is a global problem,” said Ms Barron. “Girls and boys need clear messages that unwanted sexual contact in or around school is not acceptable.”

Plan UK is running a campaign entitled Because I am a Girl, working with girls, communities and governments to make sure that girls can get a good quality, safe education. Visit www.plan-uk.org/because-i-am-a-girl


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