CW: descriptions of discrimination and sexual assault
Featured in this article are quotes from a survey I conducted among peers about types of discrimination they faced in school. All names have been changed for the sake of privacy.
“This is a widespread, endemic issue. It’s not about one environment, or demographic or school; [it] is so deeply ingrained in our culture, people really need to understand that if we’re going to be able to dismantle it.” –Soma Sara, founder of “Everyone’s Invited”.
In June of 2021, anti-rape organisation and website “Everyone’s Invited” published a list of almost 3,000 schools names in anonymous testimonies from students documenting cases of sexual assault and harassment. Although the site had been active since June of 2020, and has since collected over 50,000 testimonies in total, the publishing of this list sparked mainstream news and media controversy, beginning conversation surrounding rape culture and whether or not it is right to “name and shame” young boys included in these testimonies. Despite them being anonymous, an Evening Standard article opens a discussion suggesting these reports “can lead to finger pointing and so-called “trials by social media””. The article, titled “”Being a boy is one of the hardest things to be in London now”—the devastating Everyone’s Invited backlash begins” makes a bold attempt to paint male students as the unspoken victims of the situation- and while their argument that false allegations can tarnish a person’s reputation is true, and those cases must be dealt with individually- a survey conducted in March of this year revealed 97% of women in the UK between the ages of 18-24 have been victims of some form of sexual harassment; it has to start somewhere.
“I was the only girl in my class around the ages of 11/12, and would have boys in the class slapping my ass in school and during lessons. This was in the year 2015. My teacher talked to each boy who was doing it but there was no punishment.” Claire, 18
“Aged 15 a teacher said I had the body of an 18 year old. The same year two boys had a conversation in front of me about wanting to look at my nipples. Aged 16 another student called me sugar tits.” Rebecca, 18
Sexual assault and harassment is not the only issue that goes unchecked in schools. Homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, sexism, transphobia- I would argue it’s harder to find a minority who has not experienced some form of discrimination in school. As someone who came out as a lesbian in year 7 and remained openly LGBT for the rest of my secondary school experience, I definitely felt I was treated differently. In one instance I found out I had been called homophobic slurs behind my back, and towards the end on year 10 I found myself mocking my own sexuality to please those who wanted someone to laugh at. I witnessed countless slurs being thrown around, in front of teachers, often with nothing more than a stern word or two as a result.
“From age 12 pupils at my school (mostly male and not limited to my year group) would call me the f slur. Another thing that sticks out is the treatment I got in PE; the girls would all stare at me as I changed and make comments due to the rumours about my sexuality. I never reported these incidents because I knew the school would make it worse. I could handle it myself.” Hannah, 17
“I was getting horribly harassed by a group of boys in my year who would follow me around and call me the d slur at every opportunity. At one point I got spat on. My head of year told me if I hadn’t wanted attention like that then I shouldn’t have come out.” Jo, 18
Schools are complicit in allowing children to continue being harassed and bullied by their classmates, perhaps in fear of what happens when bullies are called out, not wanting to demonise those at fault. This leaves young women and minorities constantly vulnerable to attack and perpetuates a culture of silence that carries into these children’s teenage years and adulthood. If those responsible did not step in and correct my behaviour as a child, how was I supposed to know it was wrong?
“I was asked if an Asian language should be used to explain a concept to me regardless of the fact I spoke perfect English as I was born here. I reported this incident anonymously, but they said nothing could be done unless I provided a name, which I was uncomfortable with.” Aaron, 18
“When I was 13, people told me they would bomb Africa. When I was 14, a girl in my Spanish class mocked my hijab. When I was 15, I called out an instance of racism and was constantly bullied as a result. In science a boy mocked my immigrant parents and people laughed. I sneezed and someone made a terrorist joke- none of my friends cared. A stranger shouted the n word at me. I felt uncomfortable reporting these incidents in detail knowing the harassment I would get as a result.” Zaynab, 17
“When I was 16, during a game of Kahoot in English, I made a joke towards a classmate about him making a mistake. In response he called me a slur and laughed. It was as if nobody heard him. I told a friend who as just as shocked as me, and confronted him, calling him racist. A teacher overheard and made us stay behind to report to the head of house. I asked her not to as I was scared I would be in trouble for mocking my classmate beforehand, even though I wanted to speak up about it. When asked to make a statement the first thing they asked me was whether I thought it was a slip of the tongue. I said yes even though I didn’t want to, but I was scared of what would happen if I said no.” Maya, 17
It starts in schools and doesn’t stop. Until there is proper education surrounding the harmful effects of discrimination, until there is sufficient sexual education surrounding consent in every situation, until there are consistent and enforced consequences for such behaviour, children will grow into teenagers, will grow into adults, thinking they can get away with it. And they do. Because unless you show it is unacceptable, people will accept it. And when victims finally speak out after being taught in school to fear the consequences, someone will write an article painting the abusers as the abused, and the cycle will continue.
Note from the editor: we at Freedom are very happy to welcome Ell May, 17, as our young people correspondent. (zb)