SEXUAL harassment of girls by their male classmates is rife in Rotherham schools, according to MP Sarah Champion.
The campaigning MP and former shadow minister for preventing abuse said she was regularly told of boys behaving inappropriately towards their female classmates, including incidents of them “putting their hands up girls’ skirts”.
School staff appeared shocked when told of the claims but “nothing seems to change”, she added.
The Advertiser contacted all Rotherham’s secondary schools about Ms Champion’s claims but none have responded to a request for comment.
The Rotherham MP said she visited schools in Rotherham on a regular basis and often held girls-only sessions with students, where she asked about their experiences of school life and encouraged them to raise any concerns.
Ms Champion, a former ex-shadow minister for women and equalities, said girls had reported being discouraged by teachers from traditionally male-dominated areas like engineering and science.
And she said this was an extension of a culture of “sexual harassment” seen in some schools, although she would not say which ones.
“It seems we have not moved on,” Ms Champion said.
“It’s standard for me to hear that boys are behaving inappropriately towards girls, even putting their hands up their skirts.
“This is just seen as boys being playful but if it happened the other way it would be seen as sexual harassment.
“It’s standard to hear this when I go into secondary schools and speak to groups of girls.
“Pastoral staff members are shocked and surprised (to hear about it) but nothing really changes.
“The bigger picture is that from a young age girls are encouraged to be quiet and be compliant and keep their mouths shut. That’s seen as being a good student.
“They are told off and blamed for pushing themselves forward.
“When boys are challenging, they are seen as being boyish.”
Ms Champion said rather than blaming parents instances of sexually inappropriate behaviour should be seen as a failure of society.
“Peer-on-peer CSE is the fastest growing area, accounting for 40 per cent of investigations.
“That’s why I’m always campaigning so hard for relationship education — it’s about respecting other people, knowing what boundaries are acceptable and being aware of not going into someone else’s space.
“Quite often students are split into boys and girls for sex education instead of it being done jointly.
“Before we start to think about having sex, we ought to know what consent is.
“Children are starting to watch porn before they even have relationship education, which cannot be right.”
Children’s charity the NSPCC said what it calls “peer abuse” was a major issue, with 3,000 counselling sessions delivered in a single year to young people who had experienced sexual abuse by a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, an ex-partner or another young person.
A spokeswoman said: “Some teachers who witness peer sexual abuse have told us, via the NSPCC Helpline, they need more support in how to deal with these situations.
“The NSPCC is calling for revamped and reformed relationship and sex education (RSE) to be incorporated into the national curriculum as quickly as possible, taught by highly trained staff from primary school onwards.
“Classes should focus on young people keeping healthy bodies and relationships and ensure that children are able to understand what sexual abuse is and be able to recognise its signs and how to keep themselves safe.”
NSPCC head of policy Almudena Lara said: “The NSPCC firmly believes that every child should be taught from an early age about consent, different relationships, and what abuse and harassment is, so that they learn they have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”
“Teachers must receive high quality training and support to deliver the new curriculum so that every school across the country meets the same high standards.”
Rotherham Borough Council also declined to comment.
We want to continue holding local authorities to account, attending court and council meetings, as well as providing breaking news, competitions and offers – but it costs money. Online advertising does not cover costs, therefore we feel the need to ask for your help in ensuring we can provide the best possible coverage, online and in our printed products.
For as little as £1, you can support the Rotherham Advertiser – and it only takes a minute.
Click here to support local news.