The Everyone’s Invited Campaign exposed the endemic issue of harassment and assault within schools. The continuous publication of testimonies was a huge wakeup call to the education system and broader society regarding the scale of the problem. Yet for many of us it was upsettingly unsurprising to read post upon post of harassment and assault going unpunished or unreported due to social pressures and institutional insufficiency. The education system is directly responsible for these conditions and incidents: it creates a culture and a society in which this behaviour is not only unpunished but largely expected. Through insufficient policies regarding reporting and the facilitation of a “boys will be boys” culture, the schooling system makes these high levels of assault and harassment inevitable. Such conditions are considered a “rape culture”. Rape culture is commonly understood to mean a society which uses rape positive rhetoric, including but not limited to hostility towards women, a lack of respect for bodily autonomy and the encouragement of traditional gender roles. Such components contribute directly to the high levels of harassment and assault in society and also to the lack of suit- able conviction rates or significant punishments levied. The normalisation of sexual assault through media and in schools, and the lack of suitable discussions to mitigate such actions results in rape and assault being normalised. Society is desensitised to violence against women and as such rape culture prevails despite the apparent notional support from govern to women’s issues. Such a culture is created by a sexism that exists in two forms: benevolent and aggressive sexism. The latter is more obvious: the act of hit- ting a woman or genuinely held hostility towards women. The former remains more complex: benevolent sexism follows a similar pattern to that of the white saviour complex. It is the idea that women need protection or that they are at fault for the crimes committed against them perpetuates the idea that women are incapable of living without male protection or support. Such attitudesare what result in the accusation that a woman was ‘asking for it’ because of what she was wearing, or because she was walking alone without a man to protect her. Both attitudes are damaging, but it is the latter that is the most subtle and yet most pervasive continuation of rape culture. Such attitudes are created and fostered in the schooling environment. Thus, the inadequacies of the education system exist similarly in two avenues: the inability to prevent hostile sexism; and the lack of any significant education or prevention of benevolent sexism. On the first, I identify two key failings of the education policy. The first is the lack of sufficient discussions surrounding consent and bodily autonomy from a young age. Whilst the most recent government plan for the English education sys- tem attempts to rectify this and in-troduce some discussion of consent, there remains insufficient assertionof an individual’s autonomy even in childhood. This exists both in terms of the sexual context of consent, but also more broad social consent. Furthermore, it is crucial that children are, from a young age, given the language necessary to communicate and understand their own autonomy. To use the word “consent” from a young age and to teach young children an- atomical language for their body arms them with the necessary tools to explain and defend themselves. The second key failing at an institutional level is the complete lack of transparency about what it means to make a report. The impact of this is twofold. The first is that those who have faced sexual harassment or assault are unclear on what policies can be implemented to protect them and at what stage they will be forced to make a police report. Such ambiguity necessarily means that victims – already nervous about coming forward – will be less likely to seek the sup- port that they need. Whilst I understand that the severity of accusations necessitates the involvement of the police, there are options that should be available to students who do not wish to go down that avenue. The ability to move classes or lockers, the ability to take compassionate leave of absence, or the ability to receive the necessary counselling without fear of being forced into making a police report are all things that schools should be able to provide and yet fail to do so. It is thus crucial that the education system outlines clearly what internal steps can be taken and at what stage police involvement is necessary.
The second impact of this lack of transparency is the creation of a grey area for the school to act with- in. I believe that this is a semi-intentional policy that some may describeas beneficial because it allows each report to be considered holistical- ly and thus bespoke support to be offered to each survivor. However, this grey area necessarily means that reports can be swept under the rug to prevent the difficult and reputationally-damaging process of a sexual harassment or assault case. Indeed, this grey area means that students are reliant on the arbitrary will of those in charge and their rights to be sup- ported and heard are not guaranteed. The question of benevolent sexism is far more complex, however there are two ways in which, I believe, the education system should adapt to prevent the culture of “saving women”. The first is to include sufficient education about feminism within the school curriculum – including discussions of aggressive and benevolent sexism. I think it is crucial that schools are armed with an education both in the history of women’s rights, but also in terms of the conditions faced by women to this day. Whilst I recognise the complexity of modern feminism and the different avenues the ideology has split into, at its core remains the notion of equality and the facts of inequality. With this information, I believe that an education system with feminism in its heart enshrines the strength of the female voice and arms pupils with the information necessary to engage in crucial discussions. Furthermore, the inclusion of this distinction between aggressive and benevolent sexism brings to light the difference between an overt hatred of women, and the passivity of notions of female inferiority and how damaging both can be. The second change necessary to mitigate the male saviourism is to ensure that discussions surrounding harassment and assault focus on the actions of the perpetrator and not the victim. Rather than arming women with methods to avoid assault and tips and tricks to ensure their safety, the discussions should focus on preventing the action from being com- mitted at all. In reality, these safety precautions do not prevent assault from taking place, they prevent assault being committed against you. There will always be someone more drunk, wearing a shorter skirt, or less able to protect herself. It is crucial that schools tackle male behaviour and attitudes towards women overtly rather than blaming women and girls for the crimes committed against them. Thus, the failings of the education system directly contribute to the culture in which boys feel as though it is acceptable to abuse women, and girls are dissuaded from reporting these acts. The Everyone’s Invited campaign of the summer provided almost a unique opportunity for survivors to have their stories heard. The fact that there were so many from such diverse geographical and schooling backgrounds shows the endemic nature of the problem. It is a catastrophic institutional failure that these events take place, and the education sys- tem is complicit in the harassment and assault of women and girls. Looking beyond this schooling stage, though, we see high levels of assault and harassment continuing through university-level education and into the workforce. The reason for this is the existence of a rape culture, fostered in schools, and a natural byproduct of insufficient measures undertaken by the government. To prevent this injustice from continuing indefinitely, our education system must change, and it must change now.
Illustration: Olivia Jones