Everyonesinvited.uk is the name of the website very recently set up for girls to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault in their schools. As of last weekend over 5,000 submissions had been received detailing painful and deeply distressing accounts of abusive behaviour perpetrated within a ‘rape culture’ that seems to permeate high profile private as well as state schools.
Descriptions of what has been experienced, in some cases in the face of the apparent reluctance of school staff to intervene if they see it happening, are graphic and disturbing. Intensive social media activity and a pattern of parties extends the reach of this behaviour so it intrudes, beyond the school gates, into all aspect of personal life.
The founder of the website, Soma Sara, has stated that ‘this is a universal problem’ and not confined to particular schools, countries or cultures. She further states that peer-on- peer abuse is now so normalised that both victim and perpetrators don’t fully understand what is happening to and between them. The tragic death of Sarah Everard has propelled this issue to the fore and there is now a national debate emerging about how best to engage with boys and young men about consent and respectful behaviour.
Helen Pyke, head of Magdelan College school Oxford, writing in the ‘Observer has said:
‘What interests me is how fundamentally decent boys, who want to do the right thing, get into situations where they don’t . One reason is alcohol and the other is porn. Both have an effect on boys and girls in terms of what they think is expected of them and what appropriate sexual behaviour is.’
The law firm Farrers has recently published some research into the harmful effect of porn on young people. This seems to confirm Pyke’s statement and shows that ease of access is a key factor.
As we slowly emerge from lockdown and relish the new opportunities for (limited) socialising, how best can our churches respond? Without doubt the Methodist Church has a long and strong tradition of working positively with young people, promoting core values that are the ones we are striving to see applied more rigorously. With Ofsted now threatening to close schools that don’t maintain good safeguarding practice, it’s imperative that our churches continue to provide safe spaces for girls and young women to come to and an environment in which it’s equally safe to tell their stories and be listened to.