You may also like
Principles for preventing sexual & sexist bullying
1. Talk about sexual and sexist bullying and harm.
Sexual and sexist bullying thrives in a climate of secrecy. Create time and safe spaces to explain sexual development, harmful sexual behaviour and sex inequality in an age and development-appropriate way with children and young people. Support children to share what is happening inside and outside of school, within a safe environment where trust has been built, children are clear on boundaries and expectations, and they know the action schools will take. There may be new trends that you are unaware of. Listen – but be prepared to address behaviour that young people may see as ‘normal’, but you consider to be harmful. We all bring our own experiences and biases to the exploration of sexual behaviour, and it is important to seek advice. If you are unsure about behaviour or have concerns talk to your Designated Safeguarding Lead, and seek external advice from your local children’s services team, or organisations like NSPCC or the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
If you think a child or young person is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, or could be a victim or perpetrator of child sexual exploitation, it’s important to take action. Consider:
Even if there are no reports of sexual and sexist bullying and harm in your school, it does not mean it isn’t happening. Adopt an attitude of “it could happen here”. It is important that all staff are trained to identify harmful sexual behaviour, and are ready to address any concerns as soon as possible, rather than relying on children to report incidents.
2. Train staff
Make sure your Designated Safeguarding Lead is trained and supported to take a lead in preventing harmful sexual behaviour and bullying and that key staff with responsibility for safeguarding, behaviour and pastoral care can work together to train other staff and lead on whole school approaches to prevention. Create time to train all staff in how to identify and respond to incidents and for open discussion. Make sure all staff are consistent in their response – for example, staff feel empowered to address sexism and sexual comments. Training on responding to concerns should be part of the induction for new and staff and refresher training on child protection.
3. Teach consent
All children and young people, regardless of their age, developmental needs, or disability, need support to understand the importance of respecting another person’s body, choices, feelings and physical space, and that if someone says no to them, they must respect this at all times – even if they are in a romantic relationship with this person. This is an area that should be taught in the RSE curriculum so that pupils know about consent by the time they leave secondary school. Primary schools can teach about issues such as asking for and giving permission, consent in friendships and peer pressure to do something which makes them feel uncomfortable. Younger children can be taught consent in an age appropriate way by discussing giving permission in games or sharing toys or school equipment and consent in the context of friendships, and peer pressure
4. Teach and model respectful relationships.
Relationships and sex education is now compulsory and provides an opportunity to explore consent as well as challenging all forms of sexism, healthy and respectful relationships and not judging someone else for their experience or preference. This can often link to the school’s ethos and values and throughout the school’s approach to behaviour and discipline.
5. Do not allow sexual or sexist name-calling or comments.
The most common form of bullying is verbal bullying, it is important that all staff feel confident to and are consistent in challenging sexual or sexist name-calling or comments. Work with children to explain what you mean by sexual or sexist name-calling, and be clear that it’s not accepted in your school community. Ignoring this can lead to a culture where such behaviour is normalised. Take time to work with children and young people to explain what this means, and the types of words or comments this could include (e.g. swear words, slang words for body parts, sexual innuendo, sexual advances or comments). Challenge all forms of casual sexism that put pressure on children to behave in a particular way, or to have a particular identity.
6. Discuss online harmful sexual behaviour.
It is important to consider and address both face to face and online harmful sexual behaviour. Examples of online harmful sexual behaviour could include sending and receiving of sexual messages and images or participating in live sexual activity online, sharing pornographic content, making sexist or sexual comments, making homophobic, biphobic or transphobic comments, sharing sexist or sexual memes and cartoons, spreading rumours about other people’s sexuality or sexual behaviour, coercing or intimidating someone into having a relationship with you or participating in sexual activity, persistently contacting someone without their consent. Be clear what is acceptable within your school community and in the eyes of the law, and communicate what action you will take to address online harmful sexual behaviour if it comes to light that personal messages, images or videos have been shared without consent. See DfE’s guidance on ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’ for further information.
7. Be approachable.
Any child may feel hesitant to share concerns about sexual behaviour and bullying. Some children and young people are reluctant to seek help because they feel they don’t have anyone to turn to for support. They may have sought help in the past and had a negative experience, which makes them unlikely to do so again. There may also be cultural barriers to sharing concerns – particularly in relation to harmful sexual behaviour.
Children with complex needs and disabilities may find it even harder to communicate how they are feeling and what has happened. It is important that children feel able to talk to the staff member they feel most comfortable with. This requires all staff to be trained to support children with their concerns. Be conscious of your own bias and how this may impact your decision making. Do not assume anything and always listen to children.
NSPCC carried out research to find out how adults can better respond to a child who is disclosing abuse and found three key interpersonal skills that help a child feel they are being listened to and taken seriously:
• Show you care, help them open up - give your full attention to the child or young person and keep your body language open and encouraging. Be compassionate, be understanding and reassure them their feelings are important. Phrases such as ‘you’ve shown such courage today’ help.
• Take your time, slow down - respect pauses and don’t interrupt the child – let them go at their own pace. Recognise and respond to their body language. And remember that it may take several conversations for them to share what’s happened to them.
• Show you understand, reflect back - make it clear you’re interested in what the child is telling you. Reflect back what they’ve said to check your understanding – and use their language to show it’s their experience.
8. Be alert.
Be aware of relationships developing between the children and young people that you work with. Look out for any behaviour that could cause concern – for example, any power imbalance within relationships such as age difference and developmental difference. Be aware of ‘learnt’ sexualised behaviour that seems inappropriate (e.g. does not seem appropriate to the age or development of a child). Be aware of inappropriate or problematic behaviour as well as abusive or violent behaviours (see the Hackett Continuum tool14). In addition, be aware that children may not disclose bullying directly but you might notice a change in their behaviour, attitude, attendance, school work or friendships. The Ofsted review3 found that professionals still rely too much on children telling someone about abuse instead of recognising other indicators, such as emotional or behavioural changes.
9. Communicate with parents and carers.
Make sure your anti-bullying policy includes sexual and sexist bullying and that you have explained what this includes, and what this means to parents and carers. Create time and space for parents and carers to ask their own questions and share their own concerns about their child’s sexual development. Work with parents and carers if you have any concerns about a child’s behaviour – do not allow a situation to escalate. Remember that parents and carers might be embarrassed to talk about these issues, there may be cultural sensitivities or they may be unaware of their child’s own sexual development – be discreet and respectful but always put the safety of children first. See NSPCC’s guidance here for further information.