Womens groups urge PM to take urgent action to prevent abuse

23 May 2013

Government awarded just 2.4 / 10 for work to prevent abuse of girls – new report sent to Prime Minister

Download report here

Read our Letter to the Prime Minister here

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A new YouGov opinion poll published today (23 May) finds that 86% of UK adults believe that sex and relationships education “which addresses sexual consent and respectful relationships” should be compulsory in secondary schools (1). Currently it is not (2).

The poll, which was commissioned following months of disturbing cases of abuse of women and girls past and present, also finds that measures such as training teachers to spot the signs of abuse, proactively tackling sexual bullying and harassment, and prohibiting pornography in schools, are also popular with survey respondents (3).

In the wake of a string of very disturbing abuse cases (including the child sexual exploitation trials in Rochdale and Oxford, Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall, Stuart Hazell), the End Violence Against Women Coalition is also publishing a damning new report alongside the poll which assesses the Government’s pledge to prevent violence against women and girls. The report, entitled ‘Deeds or Words?’, concludes that, whilst there is good work in some areas of government, in other key areas the Government’s pledge is “virtually meaningless.” Expert contributors to the report, which has been sent to the Prime Minister, awarded the government just 2.4 out of 10 for work in this area (4).

End Violence Against Women Co-Chair Marai Larasi MBE said:

“For months now there has been a torrent of news reports about child sexual abuse, prosecutions of groups of men for child sexual exploitation, the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones, and weekly stories of domestic violence murders the rate of which is not falling.

“We urgently need a response from the Prime Minister as to the Government’s plans not just to police but to prevent this abuse in the first place. It is not inevitable – strategic policy can detect risk and prevent abuse. Currently government work is at best patchy and education policy is a key barrier to improving this. A real commitment to prevent abuse would include solid schools work and long-term public campaigning such as we have seen on road safety for decades.”

The report finds that the Department for Education, the key department with responsibility for children’s safety, is failing to take action to protect children and shape positive attitudes to women. This is despite the fact that girls and young women are disproportionately targeted for particular types of abuse, including sexual and domestic violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. A YouGov poll commissioned by the EVAW Coalition in 2010 found that a third of girls had been subjected to sexual harassment at school (5) yet schools are not specifically required to address this behaviour in their bullying or behaviour policies.

The report also finds that:
- despite concerns about sexual offending by boys and young men (6), there is no obligation for schools to teach young people about sexual consent and respectful relationships;
- a multi-million pound Home Office campaign aimed at preventing abuse amongst teens (‘thisisABUSE’), was sidelined by the Department for Education meaning that many schools were not aware that students may be seeking help after seeing the campaign online and on TV;
- whilst the government has announced a programme of work to prevent violence against women and girls overseas, there is no equivalent programme of work in the UK;
- there is little political leadership on these issues in the Department for Education or the Department for Culture Media and Sport - the Department for Education’s expert group on violence against women and girls has been disbanded;
- abuse of women and girls is mostly absent from policy development on press regulation, social media and technology.

Experts warned that failings in the Department for Education and Department for Media Culture and Sport were undermining the positive work efforts in other Departments, including the Home Office, Department for International Development and Crown Prosecution Service, to prevent abuse. International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, is funding preventative work overseas and is establishing an expert group on women and girls. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has recently spoken out about the current “watershed moment” for responding to sexual abuse (prompted by the Savile revelations and the Rochdale child sexual exploitation convictions) and the Welsh Government is consulting on a new Bill on violence against women which includes a legal requirement for schools to carry out prevention work.

An action plan to prevent abuse would include:
- A legal obligation for all schools to teach children about sexual consent and respectful and equal relationships;
- A legal obligation for all schools to collect data on assaults, similar to the United States obligation on Colleges;
- Ongoing training for teachers and other professionals to identify and respond adequately to the signs of abuse;
- Investment in ongoing public campaigns aimed at potential perpetrators to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours;
- Proper resourcing for women’s support services in the community.

End Violence Against Women Coalition Co-Chair Marai Larasi MBE added:

“Just a few weeks ago, at this year's UN Commission on the Status of Women, our government joined with other countries to reaffirm previous commitments and establish new ones around addressing violence against women and girls. This includes clear commitments to address structural and underlying causes and risk factors so as to prevent violence against women and girls. It is time for our government to make good on those promises and to ensure that violence against women and girls is no longer tolerated in our society.”

End Violence Against Women Coalition Co-Chair Professor Liz Kelly said:
“Following the Savile and Rochdale scandals, we are in a watershed moment for our understanding of the scale of abuse of women and girls. Our poll shows that when asked a large majority of people in the UK want schools to provide sex and relationships education that deals with consent and respect. The government has indicated resistance to this – it needs to catch up with public opinion.

“There has been long-term investment in the government’s THINK! road safety campaign over many years. Now is the time to develop a similar programme of work to prevent violence against women and girls over the long term.

“This must start with a commitment to making Sex and Relationships Education a statutory obligation on all schools in England and to ensure that young people experiencing abuse have the right kind of support from women’s support services "


Notes to editors:

1.     The YouGov poll was commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,002 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15-17 April 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (age 18+). Respondents were asked, ‘do you think it should or should not be compulsory for schools to provide sex and relationships education which addresses sexual consent and respectful relationships?’; 48% answered ‘yes, sex and relationships education should be compulsory in all schools’, 38% answered ‘yes… should be compulsory but only in secondary schools’, 8% of respondents said ‘no, sex and relationships education should not be compulsory’ and 6% said ‘don’t know’.

2.     Currently schools are only required to teach young people the biological basics of reproduction; there is no requirement to go further than this and ensure classes include discussion on sex in the context of relationships or the law on consent or many other issues that young people face today - such as teen relationship abuse, sexting and the easy availability of pornography especially on mobile devices. Parents are permitted to withdraw their children from any classes schools do run on sex and relationships.

3.     Further questions asked respondents whether they thought their local schools were doing enough to ensure girls were safe from abuse. Interestingly, while a third of respondents (34%) said they thought schools should be doing more, almost a half (44%) answered ‘don’t know’, indicating perhaps a lack of knowledge about current school practice. The approximate third of people who thought schools should do more (676 respondents) were asked about the measures schools might implement and: 87% agreed that  teachers should be trained in spotting signs of abuse; 76% agreed schools should proactively tackle ‘sexual bullying’ such as groping and sexual name-calling; 65% agreed that schools should have a clear policy prohibiting the use and distribution of pornography in school including via phones and online’.

4.     Full report, scores and methodology here:

5.     Sexual harassment in schools poll results:

6.     Earlier this year a Probation Inspectorate report found that social workers and teachers were missing the signs and opportunities to detect and prevent early sexual offending in boys, more here ; earlier this month Ofsted found that PSHE is not good enough in schools where taught and leaves children at risk, more here:

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