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Official review into sexual harassment in Jersey schools

Official review into sexual harassment in Jersey schools

Friday 11 June 2021

Official review into sexual harassment in Jersey schools


“Highly sensitive” accounts of misogyny, harassment and sexual abuse shared by Jersey College for Girls students in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death are to be officially reviewed.

Spearheaded by Jersey’s Safeguarding Partnership Board and expected to conclude in July, the review will not only aim to establish “how events unfolded leading up to and following” the anonymous disclosures by the young women, but provide recommendations on how to better safeguard children and young people across the island, with the “challenges of online safety” a particular focus.

It follows a pledge in April from the headteachers of JCG and Victoria College to take a "zero tolerance" approach to "any language and behaviour that is sexist, misogynistic, demeaning or offensive” after female students opened up about a variety of experiences “within the classroom, walking through the school sites, on school buses, at parties or online."

The heads described some of the testimonies as “difficult to hear” in a letter to parents and carers.

Letter JCG Vic

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The letter sent to parents and carers of JCG and VCJ students in April.

In a joint statement sent yesterday evening to guardians of students at both schools, the Government and Safeguarding Partnership Board described the review as a “first step” towards addressing some of the concerns raised.

They added: ”We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those students for their brave testimonials, which will help us to tackle and understand more about the prevalence of sexual harassment and other unacceptable behaviours amongst young people in Jersey.

“Since the allegations were disclosed, multiagency meetings have taken place with senior officials in the Department for CYPES, States of Jersey Police and the Safeguarding Partnership Board and support has been made available for students who may be affected.”

Yesterday’s review launch coincided with the publication of a report by Ofsted, suggesting that sexual harassment in schools and colleges had become “normalised”.

The UK schools regulator had been asked to undertake a rapid review, which included conversations with more than 900 children and young people across 32 schools, after anonymous testimonials of abuse were published on the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ in April. The website published the names of 3,000 schools where students had reported serious harassment or abuse yesterday - JCG, VCJ and St. Michael's Prep featured on the list, and Guernsey's Ladies College and Grammar School.

Ofsted's report said nine in 10 girls that inspectors spoke to, and around half of all male pupils, claimed that sexist name-calling and being sent unwanted explicit images happened “a lot” or “sometimes”. Some boys were found to be trading “nudes” like a “collection game” on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat.

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Pictured: The Ofsted report found some male students were trading sexual photos of their female peers online like a "collection game".

The review also found that many students did not feel it was worth reporting their concerns about such behaviour because it was seen as normal. 

They felt that teachers didn’t understand, and that the sex education they were receiving wasn’t setting them up for the real-life challenges they were facing. Without clear teaching on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, inspectors heard how many had sought clarity from social media and their peers.

Concerns about the dangers of young people turning to the internet and pornography to educate themselves have previously been raised by local charity Jersey Action Against Rape (JAAR), which supports survivors of sexual violence and educates students on issues of consent and acceptable sexual behaviour.

Not only can it confuse young people's understanding of healthy and consenting relationships, but students also ought to be aware of some of the exploitative practices involved in its production, "down to the effects it can have on their physiology”, such as erectile dysfunction as a result of being numbed from exposure to “very graphic images.”

JAAR has previously provided workshops on the topic, but more recently has found itself dispelling the 'myths of rape' - notions that factors like what someone was wearing, or whether they had been drinking, make them partially 'responsible' for any crimes committed against them.

The charity's Office Manager, Jayne Gruchy, told the Bailiwick Podcast that such myths appeared to be the basis of a number of comments made by some local students in the wake of Sarah Everard's disappearance and death in March. So alarmed were some teachers, that they called on the charity for urgent help in dispelling these attitudes.

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Pictured: Conversations about women's safety opened up across the British Isles in the wake of Sarah Everard's death, with many young people in Jersey also choosing to share their experiences. (Met Police)

“The sympathy wasn’t there, the empathy wasn’t there, and that shocked and surprised them, and so they felt they needed to bring JAAR in to help with discussions around the whole area of sexual safety and… around consent.”

JAAR is currently working with local Youth Theatre group, Drama Lab, to create a series of interactive shows that encourage young people to understand healthy sexual relationships - including the implications of taking or being sent a private photo.

Since JCG students’ experiences came to light, teachers have been on duty in "shared spaces" between the school and VCJ to oversee appropriate behaviour between students. The schools also arranged presentations from Police and Dewberry House on the support available for those who have been victim to sexual abuse, and said their PSHE leads would be reviewing their programmes to plug any gaps.

The two Colleges have also been shared statement of values “about what a culture of respect looks and sounds like”. In an email accompanying the statement sent to parents and carers yesterday, outgoing VCJ Head Alun Watkins said this work on the Joint Statement of Intent and Student Charter would "soon" be released, adding: "I am indebted to students from both Colleges who have shaped our joint response.

"We will continue to be guided and judged by them in how JCG and VCJ work together to build a consistent culture of respect for all."

But unacceptable sexual behaviour cannot be challenged and resolved by schools alone, according to Ofsted's Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman.

Following the publication of yesterday's damning report, she said: "This is a cultural issue; it’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can’t solve that by themselves. The government needs to look at online bullying and abuse, and the ease with which children can access pornography.

"But schools and colleges have a key role to play. They can maintain the right culture in their corridors and they can provide RSHE [PSHE in Jersey, ed.] that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need."

LISTEN...

Boys will be boys? We need to talk about school rape culture in Jersey

Subscribe to Bailiwick Podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer or Whooshkaa.

SUPPORT...

Young people in need of support in relation to the issues discussed in this article are able to make use of the following:

  • The YES project (Youth Enquiry Service) offers information, advice and counselling for young people up to 25 years old. It is free to call on 0800 7350 010 and is open from 12:00 until 20:00 daily. 

  • Kooth Jersey provides a safe, moderated and non-judgmental place for young people to talk, connect and chat with others and know they are not alone. The service offers drop-in or bookable sessions with professional counsellors between 12:00 and 22:00 on weekdays and between 18:00 and 22:00 on weekends. Young people can access Kooth by visiting www.kooth.com and selecting ‘Jersey Kooth’ during the sign up process. 

  • The Children and Families Hub offers support and help for safeguarding concerns. Please call the hub on 519000 or email childrenandfamilieshub@gov.je 

  • If a child is at immediate risk call the police on 999.

READ MORE...

Colleges vow "zero tolerance" of sexist behaviour

Charity called into schools following concerns over attitudes to women

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