SEXUAL harassment between children is so common in Welsh schools it has become “normalised” with pupils as young as nine subjected to it. 

Those are the findings of a report by the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, which looked at how the issue is impacting secondary and primary schools and further education colleges. 

A previous report by inspectors Estyn – prompted after the Everyone’s Invited website last year published anonymised accounts of sexual harassment and violence at schools across the UK - revealed that 61 per cent of female pupils and 29 per cent of male pupils had experienced sexual harassment at Welsh secondary schools. 

The Senedd report says that those figures are probably a significant underestimation, and it also looked at primary and further education which hadn’t been included in the Estyn report. 

Estyn told the committee “in terms of during the school day, the most common forms of sexual harassment are catcalling; making hurtful comments; making homophobic comments—mainly towards boys, but not always; and also comments about appearances”.

The NSPCC reported young people had contacted it about “issues ranging from looking up skirts to sharing indecent images without consent, all the way through to rape.”

The children’s charity said: “It was particularly apparent that for young women in secondary schools, this was viewed as a normal part of life at school.” 

Before launching the report committee chair Jayne Bryant had met with Welsh police officers who highlighted their concerns about the scale and severity of peer on peer sexual harassment in schools. 

The Labour MS for Newport West said: “Sexual harassment among learners is shockingly commonplace. Many schools simply don’t know how to react to sexual harassment and in some cases don’t even recognise the signs of sexual harassment.  

“We need the Welsh Government to empower teachers, parents and pupils to support and identify when sexual harassment is happening. There is an element of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s just teasing’ and frankly, this attitude needs to change. The alternative is dire.  

“The impact of sexual harassment on some learners is so severe that t not only affects their learning, it can affect their relationships, mental health, life prospects and – in the most serious of cases – lead to self-harm and suicide.” 

The committee said evidence it had taken suggested sexual harassment is an issue in primary schools with Estyn’s interviews with secondary school pupils and teaching unions all stating the issue can arise before children reach secondary school and can start when many pupils have mobile phones and access to online platforms like their older peers.

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The committee also noted legal complexities around issues such as ‘sexting’, - the sending of sexual or intimate images - including related to the age of children, and abusive messages. 

Its report has made 24 recommendations to the Welsh Government. 

It calls for the Welsh Government to use a national campaign to target not only learners, but their families and school staff, to raise awareness of behaviours considered to be sexual harassment and empower pupils to call out such behaviour with the confidence it will be dealt with correctly.  

“We have asked a lot of the Welsh Government in this report; our young people deserve no less,” said Bryant.  
 
The committee also recommends that Estyn consider how schools record and respond to incidents, highlighting it as a key thing that should be looked at during school inspections.  
 
The recommendations outlined by the committee acknowledge schools cannot be held entirely responsible for peer-on-peer sexual harassment and causes are deep-rooted in societal attitudes. 

These are amplified by pornography, social media, and, in recent years, the COVD-19 pandemic which has increased use of social media and messaging services. But the committee says schools hold the potential to be able to lead the fight against these societal attitudes. 

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