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Sexual bullying in schools

An NSPCC factsheet

March 2010

An introduction to sexual bullying, including information about its prevalence, who it affects, and how it might impact on schooling and learning. We also provide guidance for professionals on managing sexual bullying and suggest sources of advice for children, young people and parents.

What is the NSPCC’s working definition of sexual bullying?
How common is sexual bullying?
Do both genders experience sexual bullying?
What is the impact on schooling and learning?
How can I manage sexual bullying in an educational setting?
What can children and young people do?
What can parents do?
Where can I find more resources and literature on this topic?


 

What is the NSPCC’s working definition of sexual bullying?

Any bullying behaviour, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person’s sexuality or gender. It is when sexuality or gender is used as a weapon by boys or girls towards other boys or girls - although it is more commonly directed at girls. It can be carried out to a person’s face, behind their back or through the use of technology.

Related link

NSPCC working definition of sexual bullying (PDF, 24KB)  
Adapted from the definition provided by WOMANKIND Worldwide (October 2009).

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How common is sexual bullying?

A survey of children and young people’s experiences of sexual bullying was carried out by the charity Young Voice (2008).1 This survey revealed that of the 273 young people aged 11-19 who responded to the questionnaire, 28 had been forced to do something sexual and 31 had seen it happen to someone else. Of the 273 respondents, 40 had experienced unwanted touching.

Recent Government figures (DCSF, 2009),2 show that in school year 2007/8 there were 3,450 fixed period exclusions and 120 expulsions from schools in England due to sexual misconduct. This includes incidents such as groping and using sexually insulting language.

Sexual bullying in schools is not just confined to children and young people. Teachers may also experience sexual remarks, sexual gestures, unwanted physical attention and inappropriate touching (NUT, 2007).3

References

1. Young Voice (2008) Sexual bullying questionnaire results (PDF).  [London]: BBC.

2. Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (2009) Permanent and fixed period exclusions from schools and exclusion appeals in England, 2007/8 (PDF).  London: DCSF.

3. National Union of Teachers (NUT) (2007) NUT policy statement on preventing sexual harassment and bullying (PDF).  [London]: NUT.

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Do both genders experience sexual bullying?

While sexual bullying impacts on both genders, girls more often experience sexual harassment and bullying than boys. Girls who have been sexually harassed have reported poor body image, loss of self esteem, anger, isolation, mistrust of the opposite sex, and being uncomfortable when talking about sex.4

The NUT survey5 suggests that sexual bullying is most often carried out by boys against girls, although girls are increasingly harassing girls and boys in a sexual manner.

Boys are most often subject to sexual verbal abuse and being called obscene names.6 Males who have been sexually harassed have reported difficulties in talking, feeling emotionally hurt, feeling uncomfortable, and experiencing anger and self-hate.7

References

4. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. (1995). Student to student sexual harassment: final report on Phase I. Toronto: Ministry of Education and Training, Ontario’s Women’s Directorate.

5. National Union of Teachers (NUT) (2007) NUT policy statement on preventing sexual harassment and bullying (PDF) .  [London]: NUT.

6. Neill, S. (2006) A serious business: a NUT survey of teachers’ experience of sexism and harassment in schools and colleges. Warwick: University of Warwick.

7. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. (1995). Student to student sexual harassment: final report on Phase I. Toronto: Ministry of Education and Training, Ontario’s Women’s Directorate.

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What is the impact on schooling and learning?

Sexual bullying and harassment at school can affect studying and learning as well as a pupil’s self esteem. In addition to feeling upset, young people may not talk as much in class or may find it hard to concentrate.

They may participate less and lack attention in the classroom, achieve lower grades than they might expect, and have lower academic self-esteem. They may also display avoidance behaviours such as changing their seat in class or not wanting to go to school at all.

Related reading

Lipson, Jodi (ed.) (2001) Hostile hallways: bullying, teasing and sexual harassment in school. Washington DC: American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation.

Duffy, J. et al. (2004) Psychological consequences for high school students of having been sexually harassed. Sex Roles, 50(11/12): 811-821.

American Association of University Women. (1993) Hostile hallways: the AAUW survey on sexual harassment in America’s schools. Washington DC: American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation.

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How can I manage sexual bullying in an educational setting?

Sexual bullying is a difficult challenge for school staff to address but steps must be taken to promote a culture of respect and good behaviour at school. The NSPCC has developed a 10-point guide in partnership with Womankind to help schools tackle the problem.8

The guide recommends proactive steps to take in education settings, such as displaying a clear and concise statement on sexual bullying; steps for individuals, such as challenging incidents of sexual bullying when they occur; and for the community, such as getting involved in local and national support networks that work on preventing sexual bullying.

Professionals believe that any strategies for dealing with sexual bullying must be integrated within a whole-school approach that looks at gender relations between girls and boys, as well as men and women.

Schools can help encourage reporting by providing confidential boxes, and phone numbers or email / text systems as well as offering counselling facilities and peer mentors. These allow pupils to report their concerns more easily and help them to feel confident about being taken seriously.9

References

8. 10 point guide to stop sexual bullying in education settings (PDF, 40KB)  
A resource for teachers produced by the NSPCC in partnership with WOMANKIND Worldwide (October 2009).

9. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) Safe to learn: embedding anti-bullying work in schools.   [London]: DCSF.

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What can children and young people do?

The DCSF’s Safe to Learn Guidance (2007)10 encourages children who feel they are being bullied to stay calm and confident, and be firm about telling bullies to stop. All instances of bullying should be recorded and pupils should speak to someone they trust about the issue. It is important that children do not blame themselves for what has happened. Young people can find it difficult to speak to a teacher or parent about bullying, but may find it easier if a friend accompanies them.

References

10. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) Safe to learn: embedding anti-bullying work in schools.

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What can parents do?

If parents have been made aware that their child is being sexually harassed at school they need to speak to the class or form teacher (who may not be aware that the child or young person is being bullied). Safe to learn (2007)11 suggests some steps that parents can take if they feel that their concerns are not being addressed appropriately. These steps include: checking the school’s anti-bullying policy to see if the correct procedures are being followed, talking to other parents about their concerns, and discussing the issue with the head teacher.

References

11. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) Safe to learn: embedding anti-bullying work in schools.

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Where can I find more resources and literature on this topic?

 

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Please note that the content in this factsheet is of a general nature and may not represent a comprehensive review of the literature.



Contact the NSPCC Information Service for further information on sexual bullying or any child protection topic