In My View: Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

The Everyone’s Invited campaign was set up last June to campaign against a culture of misogyny, harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault amongst young people.

The campaign has given a voice to those who have experienced or witnessed such horrific behaviour, particularly within school and university settings.

More than 13,000 people, mainly young women and girls have now anonymously shared their experiences on the campaign’s website.

I spent an afternoon recently reading through the horrific testimonies of young women who live in or attend schools in my constituency and their experiences are shocking and unacceptable.

The testimonies reflect negative cultures at both single sex and mixed secondary schools and the founder of the campaign has been clear that she believes such problems are common at both private and state schools across the country.

Since first being elected to Parliament in 2015, I have made it a priority to work closely with all of the schools in my constituency, and with young people across the area that I represent.

I’ve worked in the House of Commons to raise the concerns of our local schools about funding, campaigned with them for reform of the curriculum to reflect an inclusive approach to British history and regularly visit schools to speak to pupils about both my role and their concerns.

So reading and reflecting on these first-hand accounts of the trauma experienced by young women and girls, what must be done?

First and fore-most this is an issue that all of us need to help tackle – schools, parents, pupils and the wider community.

I’ve already started to meet with schools in my constituency about the issues raised by Everyone’s Invited and where problems are identified I want to see independent external reviews, the publication of inspection findings, clear, detailed action plans for change and a whole-school approach to tackling this issue.

Where crimes are reported, these must be investigated by the police and support given to the victim.

The establishment of an independent phone line for incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape to be reported is welcome, and this must now be widely publicised in every school. Reports to this line must be dealt with quickly and robustly.

Every school must be held to account for their prevailing culture and given support to take the steps that are needed to drive a permanent change in behaviour.

The school inspection regime should take account of the views of students about the internal culture, the safety of young women and reported sexual harassment and abuse in deciding how to grade a school.

No school should be deemed ‘outstanding’ if its students are reporting traumatic experiences of peer to peer sexual harassment and abuse.

I want to see schools listening to their young people and young people working closely with their schools to drive the solutions.

There are many young women who have been asking for change for years, and young men who have the right values and whose behaviour is positive. They must all be part of the solution to this challenging issue.

The reports on Everyone’s Invited underline the need for compulsory sex and relationships education, properly delivered by well-trained teachers.

Every child should be taught the meaning and importance of consent in age-appropriate ways throughout their time at school.

As parents we have a key role in discussing and addressing these important issues with our sons and daughters and as local communities we must support positive initiatives and stand together against unacceptable behaviour.

Finally, we need much more action to understand and tackle the impact that social media is having on our young people.

Social media has many positive benefits, but there is little doubt that some of the behaviours revealed by Everyone’s Invited are fuelled and enabled by the content young people can access on the internet, and the ability to share material very widely.

We need to equip our young people to behave safely and with respect for each other both in person and online.

Everyone’s Invited must not simply be a media story which quietly fades from memory, the testimonies of thousands of young women and girls, bravely speaking out about painful, traumatic experiences must lead to lasting change in our schools and communities.

 


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