Everyone’s Invited a ‘Me Too’ moment for schools: campaign explained and how sex assault awareness has changed

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Professor Jessica Ringrose says there has been a “real explosion” of awareness of sexual assault in recent years in society

School children’s awareness of sexual assault is rising - but confidence to report it hasn’t followed suit, according to an academic.

Professor of the sociology of gender and education, Jessica Ringrose, said there has been a “real explosion” of awareness throughout society in the past decade, but said funding from the Government needed to be in place to support making schools safe spaces for young people.

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The University College London Institute of Education academic said awareness had been rising prior to the murder of Sarah Everard.

She cited the massive response to the Everyone’s Invited social media campaign describing it as akin to a “Me Too” moment for schools.

What is Everyone’s Invited?

The campaign against rape culture was founded by Soma Sara based on her own experiences.

She realised in conversations with friends at school and university just how widespread it was for young people, and started sharing her experiences of rape culture on Instagram.

Awareness of sexual assault is increasing among school children.Awareness of sexual assault is increasing among school children.
Awareness of sexual assault is increasing among school children. | JPI Media

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In June 2020, she founded Everyone’s Invited where survivors can share their stories anonymously through the campaign website or on Instagram.

More than 50,000 testimonies have been received.

In June 2021, Everyone’s Invited released a list of all the schools or colleges in the UK and Ireland it had received testimonies from - almost 3,000.

In April 2021, the Government asked Ofsted to carry out a rapid review of of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. The results of the review were released in June.

It included visits to 32 schools and colleges with over 900 children and young people spoken to about how frequent peer-on-peer sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online, was in their lives.

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From the visits carried out it emerged nearly 90% of girls, and nearly 50% of boys, said being sent explicit pictures or videos happens a lot or sometimes to them or other children.

Of those spoken to 92% of girls, and 74% of boys, said sexist name calling happens a lot or sometimes to them or other pupils.

A summary of the review stated: “This rapid thematic review has revealed how prevalent sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are for children and young people. It is concerning that for some children, incidents are so commonplace that they see no point in reporting them.”


How has awareness increased?

Professor Ringrose said looking at the number of testimonials and the number of schools named in the Everyone’s Invited movement revealed the scale of the awareness.

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She said:“If you want to think about numbers, and thereby kind of awareness, I mean, there was over 50,000 testimonials of young people’s experiences of genuine sexual based violence in school, on the Everyone’s Invited website, and over 3,000 schools were also named in the work that Everyone’s Invited has done.

“So I mean, we’re talking about a massive problem. And I think by the sheer volume of the testimonies, you can see that young people’s awareness of it is is raising, it’s kind of like a Me Too moment in British schools.”

In terms of awareness of sexual assault in the past decade, Professor Ringrose said there had been a “real explosion” across society that sexual and gender violence is happening to children at much younger ages.

She said: “Especially because they’re using social media during the lockdown their screen time increased exponentially.

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“And we’re also seeing a sort of huge rise in awareness that more needs to be done to support young people, that the reporting mechanisms in schools that legal systems are not working.

“Educational provision, like relationships, and sex education is not adequate to address these types of risks and harms it needs to be much more preventative to try and give support.”

She added: “We’re seeing a huge rise in awareness. Now we need the supports in place and funding on the highest levels from government to make school spaces safer and all spaces safer for young people.”

Has awareness increased more among boys or girls?

Professor Ringrose has been working on research study in schools since May 2021.

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Going into schools after the lockdowns it was apparent there was more awareness among girls.

Explaining this, Professor Ringrose, who also works on teacher training and educational interventions to prevent sexual violence said: “Girls awareness of Everyone’s Invited, Sarah Everard, and statistics that went viral on social media such as 97% of women and girls have experienced sexual harassment, was rapidly increasing.

“On sexual and gender based violence in schools and some boys do struggle to understand these experiences they don’t share, there is defensiveness and denial of sexual violence from some.

“However, when the continuum of sexual violence and the wide range of behaviours these encompass, from street harassment and catcalling to upskirting, cyberflashing as well as physical touching and violence, they begin to understand the extent of the problem.”

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The age at which awareness is increasing varies, but is often earlier with girls in particular when they start to experience such issues.

Professor Ringrose said: “I think it’s across the board. I mean, we were working with 13-year-olds, in previous research, I’ve worked with 11-year-olds, who are experiencing different forms of child sexual and gender based violence.

“Particularly my focus has been on online and digital forms of sexual violence happening younger and younger as young people sign up to social media platforms.”

Has it led to increased reporting?

Girls have shown more awareness of sexual assault than boys.Girls have shown more awareness of sexual assault than boys.
Girls have shown more awareness of sexual assault than boys. | New Africa - stock.adobe.com

Professor Ringrose said in previous research she worked on one of the things which came to light was “really shockingly low” rates of reporting.

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With regards to reporting of online sexual violence she said: “Only 5% would tell their parents and only 2% felt comfortable disclosing or reporting anything to schools.”

She said disclosure, reporting and referral systems in schools often don’t work well for young people, saying:  “They don’t tend to be victim or trauma informed, they tend to be kind of like a very punitive, kind of like, let’s go after the perpetrator let’s create a report.

“But it might have very little regard to what the victims gone through or what indeed, the victim needs or wants, because sometimes, that’s not what the victim wants, they want a confidential place to talk or be heard or be supported.

“So in relation to schools in particular, no, I would not say that confidence for young people in being able to tell people at school, to talk to the authorities at school, I don’t think that has improved from what I’ve seen.”

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Read more about Professor Ringrose’s work on the Association of School and College Leaders website.

What has the Government said?

A government spokesperson said: “Schools and colleges should be places where pupils feel safe and protected, which is why we have strengthened our safeguarding guidance and extended it to all schools and post-16 settings.

“We are also teaching young people about the importance of having respect for others through the Relationships, Sex, and Health Education curriculum, which will encourage frank and open conversations.

“The Government is also taking forward wider work to protect young people and tackle harmful behaviours, including through its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy and Online Safety Bill.”

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The Government says that since the Ofsted review it has taken a number of measures. These include asking schools to dedicate inset day training for delivering the Relationship, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum, as well promising extra support to help teachers.

Among the other measures it has taken is supporting the creation of the NSPCC ‘Report Abuse in Education’ helpline – which can be contacted on 0800 136 663, on Monday to Friday 0800-2200, or 0900-1800 at weekends.

Alongside the Children’s Commissioner and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) it met with technology companies to urge them to act to protect young people online

Ofsted has also updated its inspectors’ handbook to clarify the expectations on identifying sexual abuse and harassment.

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