Essex Lib Dems call for action on violence against women and girls; Conservatives say no

July 22, 2021 12:36 PM

Woman walking down a street - back viewA call for real action in Essex (especially in schools) to combat violence against women and girls has been rejected. Essex Lib Dems tabled a motion at the County Council meeting on 13 July. The Conservatives pushed through an amendment that patted themselves on the back for (limited) actions to date, added vague generalities and removed all the action points that would affect education.

You can watch the debate on YouTube here:

This motion to Council came on the back of a critical report from OFSTED on 10th June 2021, which stated: "culture change needed to tackle 'normalised' sexual harassment in schools and colleges".

Ofsted's inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and colleges and spoke to more than 900 children and young people about the prevalence of sexual harassment in their lives and the lives of their peers. The review found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become 'normalised' for children and young people. Around 9 in 10 of the girls spoken to said that sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened 'a lot' or 'sometimes'.

Inspectors were also told that boys talk about whose 'nudes' they have and share them among themselves like a 'collection game', typically on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat. The review recommends that school and college leaders act on the assumption that sexual harassment is affecting their pupils and take a 'whole-school' approach to addressing these issues, creating a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated.

Furthermore, Ofsted explain that it was clear that effective joint working between Local Safeguarding Partnerships (LSPs) and all schools and colleges was not happening consistently. The report makes recommendations for schools, colleges, local and central government to implement.

Moving the motion, Lib Dem Mark Cory (Colchester-Wivenhoe) said, "We must act now. We are seeing a growing culture of sexual harassment towards women and girls. School must be a safe place for everyone and a place to reinforce correct behaviour."

Seconding the motion, Lib Dem Marie Goldman (Chelmsford Central), said, "They say the first step in fixing a problem is recognising we have one. Well, we have one, so let's do something about it."

Added Chelmsford Lib Dem Leader Stephen Robinson, "It's clear that, whether on racism or sexism, you can't trust the Conservatives to take real action."

Lib Dem motion: Changing the culture of Sexual Harassment towards girls and women

'This Council recognises the saddening state of affairs outlined by the Ofsted report. This Council therefore calls upon Cabinet, with the support of all councillors, to:

  1. Publicly acknowledge and respond to the content and recommendations in the Ofsted report on Sexual Harassment in schools and colleges.
  2. Create a working group of Councillors and experts to conduct further research into the Essex experience and understand the wider causes and determinants of this culture of sexual harassment.
  3. Take a lead across educational establishments in Essex to improve engagement between multi-agency safeguarding partners, ensuring effective joint working occurs between Local Safeguarding Partnerships.
  4. Share resources, training and guidance for school and college leaders, ensuring that relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) is provided and is of a consistently high standard across every school and college in Essex.
  5. Share developing government guidance about sexual harassment and online abuse to help change attitudes, including advice for parents and carers.
  6. Communicate support for women and girls across Essex, primarily by removing the blame upon women and acknowledging the need to change the education, culture and attitudes of boys and men towards women.

Ofsted Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools and Colleges, including recommendations: