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Blog: Trauma in girls and young women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted and abused

This blog was created by Marie Thomas, Barnardo's Education Community Project Worker

Following the murder of Sarah Everard there has been an outpouring of sorrow and anger from women and girls. Many have had enough of the culture of violence and harassment that pervades everyday life.

Young women and girls have been increasingly vocal about the abuse they have suffered, and suffer, on an ongoing basis outside of school, in schools and in other education establishments, and the trauma it has caused:

Many have told their stories on the Everyone’s Invited website which was set up by Somo Sara last year after posted her personal experience of rape culture (an environment where sexual aggression and violence is seen as normal) on instagram in June 2020. Within a week she received and shared over 300 anonymous responses, reaching over 10,000 people. This figure now stands at 14,000 testimonies, growing from 5,000 + when reported in the Guardian on 28th March.

In 5 independent schools teenage girls and young women presented testimonies of rape culture and dossiers of sexual assault claims.
About 50 state schools have also been implicated in the initial 5,000 testimonies.

The campaign has stopped naming schools as it feels they were getting a ‘disproportionate amount of blame’, that many incidents take place outside of school and that it is a much wider societal problem, and asks for more to be done.

Somo Sara explained that there may be quite a delay in girls and young women reporting the assaults and rape:

‘Trauma may be delayed and repressed because they have
tried to shut it out…They gave blocked it out for so long, just
for survival – but it is impacting them in so many other
aspects of their lives, their relationships and their mental
health.’

Schools involved have condemned the behaviour in these accounts and at least 2 have reported the allegations to the police. The government recognizes that the ‘vast majority’ of schools take safeguarding responsibilities very seriously.
Heads have spoken of the ‘minefield’ they have to negotiate when pupils allege that a sexual assault/rape has taken place not on school grounds.

This is not a new problem as evidenced in previous reports:
- The National Education Union and UK Feminista in 2017 found that 37 per cent of girls at mixed-sex schools have been sexually harassed while at school
- The UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and the Haven centre based at King’s College hospital conducted a study of 137 girls aged between 13 and 17, who were assaulted between 2013 and 2015. It showed
80% of teenage girls suffer serious mental illness after sexual assault
75% of these girls lived in poverty,
20% had an EHCP;
50% had been involved with social services
50% had sought help from NHS mental health services before being attacked.

Dr Sophie Khadr, who led the study, commented:

‘Our study found that many of these vulnerability factors are also
risk factors for mental health disorders following assault. Personal
characteristics such as a history of self-harm, mental health help or
social services involvement were more important than the type of
assault as predictors of a later mental health diagnosis.’

The response of the DfE to the testimonies on the website and the protests at the schools has been to:
- commit to strengthening guidance in this area through Keeping Children Safe in Education later this year
- ask Ofsted to conduct a review to identify the extent and severity of the problem and whether schools have appropriate processes in place for reporting assault and harassment
-launch an investigation into the situation linking with the Home Office and Police Chiefs and Everyone’s Invited.
-The Government have also commissioned NSPCC to set up and run a helpline for children and young people: Report Abuse in Education

For ideas on how to support girls and young women, please see:

https://www.educators-barnardos.org.uk/themes/trauma/supporting-girls-and-young-women-who-have-been-sexually-harassed-assaulted-and-abused


References:

https://dfemedia.blog.gov.uk/2021/04/01/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-governments-newly-launched-abuse-in-education-helpline/
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/31/dfe-announces-review-into-school-sexual-abuse
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/30/theres-no-text-book-how-schools-are-handling-sexual-abuse-claims
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/apr/04/schools-abuse-site-everyones-invited-seeks-ideas-for-positive-change
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/22/sexually-abused-teenage-girls-likely-suffer-mental-health-issues-months-later-study
https://schoolsweek.co.uk/everyones-invited-rape-culture-website-stops-naming-schools-amid-fears-they-take-disproportionate-blame/

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