Isla Whateley: More needs to be done to end sexual harassment in schools

We recently attended Policy Hub Scotland’s ‘Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools’ conference which explored attitudes towards this issue and the impact this has on young people in Scotland.

Group of girls using their voice


Brownie Leader Isla Whateley spoke out on the panel discussion, and now shares why she is passionate about using her voice to call for an end to sexual harassment in schools:

“Like many girls, I have experienced sexual harassment from a young age. Girlguiding’s Girls Matter report found that three in five girls aged 13 – 21 faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year. The effect of this on girls and young women is worrying – 75% say anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment negatively affects their lives in some way, from what they wear, where they go, to how they feel about themselves and their bodies.

When I was 14, a boy provocatively danced behind me which everyone found hilarious. I didn’t know until my friends told me why everyone was laughing. In my next class a girl asked me what was wrong. I told her that what had happened and her response was “that’s what boys do – you just have to ignore it.”

Many girls will be familiar with responses like this. The ‘boys will-be boys’ attitude push girls into accepting behaviour that is inappropriate, encourages them trivialise situations and implies that if they do speak out they won’t be taken seriously.

Perhaps even more damaging is that girls also end up being blamed for the sexual harassment they experience. Girls are told they are too distracting or their clothes are inappropriate while boys’ behaviour is simply shrugged off.

Girlguiding Scotland believes this has to change and is calling for action to ensure all girls and young women feel safe and happy at school. We’re calling for:

• Compulsory high quality SRE covering consent, online abuse, gender equality and healthy relationships.
• All schools to have a duty to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and be held accountable
• National guidance to ensure schools know how to take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment