by Paula Dunn, Glasgow Rape Crisis
Coping with Sexual Violence at School
The Rosey Project, the prevention project at Glasgow Rape Crisis, has been supporting young women between the ages of 13 – 17 since 2005. During this time we have helped young women who have raped or sexually assaulted by a boy they go to school with. On some occasions the rape has taken place inside the school. A news article in October 2014 reported police statistics 2011 – 2013, revealing that 328 sexual offences took place in Scottish schools, 48 of these offences being rape.
At the Rosey Project, we’re unfortunately not surprised by these figures. What we are concerned about is how schools deal with this issue. As I have said, we have supported young women who have been raped in their school. Recently we also helped a young woman who had been raped outside of school by a peer. It does not matter where the rape has taken place. The devastating impact it has on her life and education is the same.
In our experience teachers are not trained or equipped to deal with disclosures of rape. In cases where the perpetrator is also a pupil at their school they seem to have even less confidence in properly dealing with the issue.
As you might imagine when a young woman is raped by a peer at her school she will become anxious and sometimes isolated. Often the perpetrator continues to bully the victim in order to silence her or provoke her in to being violent to try and convince people ‘she is crazy’. We have dealt with cases like this where a victim has been further exposed to risk as she is bullied by the perpetrator or his friends. The teacher’s response is often to tell the young woman to just walk away. This is easier said than done when you’re trapped in a corner by a group of angry young men.
We have worked with a young woman who, whilst defending herself against a physical assault by the perpetrator and his friends, was disciplined for hitting him and threatened with expulsion. The teacher’s response when I queried this was that they cannot tolerate any violent behaviour. The young woman should have walked away and told a teacher. This is a completely inappropriate response. There is a lack of training and understanding about the impact of sexual violence and this needs to be addressed to help young women.
We try and work closely with teachers if we are supporting a young woman at school. Glasgow Rape Crisis understands that the teacher’s job is to achieve academic results but it is also their job to ensure that all pupils feel safe and supported. Any issues that might affect this and their mental health should be managed and dealt with appropriately.
We offer training for teachers to help them deal better with disclosures and hopefully in the future, young women will feel supported in raising issues of sexual violence and assaults in the school environment.
by Paula Dunn, Glasgow Rape Crisis
Glasgow Rape Crisis
The Rosey Project is Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre’s dedicated support and prevention service for young people. The project is comprises of a support service for young women between 13 and 17 year olds, a prevention programme which takes us in to schools and youth groups across Glasgow to deliver sexual violence awareness raising workshops to boys and girls. The workshops are based around some of the issues that we hear about at the Centre.
Intimate partner violence is common amongst a lot of women who attend our centre for support, and young women are no exception. One of the issues which is raised repeatedly is pornography. Their boyfriend watches it, encourages them to watch it, coerces them in to copying what they see and in some cases forces them to re-enact what is happening in pornographic material. Young women tell us they feel traumatised by what has happened but because they ‘agreed’ to the sexual contact they feel they don’t deserve support. It takes a lot of time to build up trust to get the young women to understand the nature of coercion and how this differs to consent or ‘free agreement’ as described in legislation (Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009). Survivors of sexual violence experience a lot of self blame, guilt and shame which results in many young women feeling isolated, frightened, angry and confused. In order to cope with how they’re feeling, some young women self harm or experience thoughts of suicide because they feel there is no other way.
I haven’t even begun to talk about the impact that ‘lads’ mags’ have on young people and teen relationships. Many young women who have come to the Rosey Project for support or who have attended our workshops experience low self esteem because their boyfriend wants them to look like the women in these magazines. This is an image we know is impossible to achieve. We live in a pornified society, saturated with sexually explicit images with no regard to how these images might affect the developing minds of young people. The nature and prevalence of sexual violence is underestimated by many and the concept of coercion within relationships isn’t something that is explored with young people with any level of detail.
Pornography is not the only issue affecting young people and relationships. A lot of the young women attending our centre tell us that abusive comments have been written about them on social media, seemingly with no real consequences for the perpetrators. Some of these remain anonymous but others are people in their school or where they live. Even if the young woman does know the person there seems to be a social acceptance that if you are on Facebook then you are ’fair game’. Comments like ‘what do you expect’ are unfortunately all too common. We live in a digital age where social network sites are an easy way to connect and keep in touch. Young women affected by sexual bullying shouldn’t be expected to cut themselves off and disconnect from all their friends and wider social circle. Time after time the ‘victim’ is expected to adjust her lifestyle and the perpetrator becomes invisible.
The Pressure of Conforming
The pressure that young women are under to conform and alter their behaviour is enormous. We find that young women are open to hearing about alternatives because, all too often, they don’t feel as though they have any other choices. At the Rosey Project we believe a national educational initiative is needed to remedy this. Education about the reality of sexual violence and consent might allow young women to recognise that they have the right to say no to unwanted sexual contact and that support is available if they need it.
Young women need to know what a healthy, consensual relationship looks like and that they deserve to be safe and respected.