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OPINION

Telling the truth about rape in the UK’s secondary schools

A rape is being committed a day in schools, according to the campaigner Laura Bates. It’s terrifying, but we must not shy away from statistics like these

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By Marisa Bate on

Teenage boys think that girls crying during sex, and even rape, is a normal part of foreplay because of the “dehumanising” pornography they have been exposed to online, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The Times reports that Bates told the audience that she recently visited a school “Where they had a rape case involving a 14-year-old boy and a teacher said to him, ‘Why didn’t you stop when she was crying?’ and he looked straight back at her, quite bewildered, and said, ‘Because it is normal for girls to cry during sex’.” This is not an isolated incident. Bates says she goes into schools and “talk to children around that age all the time who think that crying is part of foreplay because they have seen so much online porn that normalises violence”.

Bates also told the festival that a rape a day was being committed in schools during term time and often victims are put back in classrooms with their rapist because schools are not adequately trained to handle the situation. Bates said, “At the moment guidance is non-existent because the last guidance was written 20 years ago so for all these people experiencing online porn and sexting there is absolutely no advice at all.” Bates was a vocal and crucial force behind the government’s decision to finally instate compulsory sex and relationship education yet she is cautious about the victory: “It remains to be seen what the curriculum will look like […] Whether it will include technology.”

Expecting girls to show fear, pain or tears – let alone be entirely hairless – is the sex education many boys are receiving

Bates’ truly shocking testimony of what is happening in schools is undoubtedly the byproduct of the proliferation of easily available and increasingly violent pornography. As our mainstream media is ever-more sexualised, pornography pursues an ever-more aggressive, violent and misogynistic path in order to maintain appeal. This porn is accessible to children. As a result, as Bates has discovered, rape is occurring daily in schools and expecting girls to show fear, pain or tears – let alone be entirely hairless – is the sex education many boys are receiving. It’s a truly bleak picture – for both young girls and boys.

And this can’t be ignored. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Young people will continue to access the internet off their phones. Confiscating phones at home won’t work, because there will be other phones at school. Equally, the pornography industry seems to do little to stop their content being reached by children. In 2017, the Digital Economy Act was passed, stating that all porn sites and apps must have age verification by law. While the government said it would work with agencies to monitor this, I’m not sure how likely children are to respond honestly when it comes to declaring how old they are. (In fact, part of childhood is constantly pretending to be older than you are.) The only way to tackle this is by confronting it. Bates’ tireless work is always focused on awareness. We need to know this is happening – however horrific we find it or impossible it seems to combat.

Others are also working to change young men’s behaviour towards women in the face of an internet full of violent porn. Tender is a London theatre and arts charity that works with secondary-school children to prevent sexual and domestic violence through role playing and performance activities. More than ever, charities like Tender need our financial support.  And, of course, supporting prevention is economically sensible. We saw that the government ditched its plans to up rents to women’s shelters last week – a huge relief, a “disaster” avoided, according to Refuge. Yet we want to stop women having to need to go to shelters in the first place.

The Everyday Sexism Project took off like lightning in 2012, because it gave a space for women to tell the stories that no one else seemed to be prepared to hear, let alone try and fix. Now, Bates is telling the story of children – children who don’t know if this behaviour is right or wrong, children who are subjected to rape and then told to sit in classrooms with their rapists, children who are perpetuating and experiencing sexual violence because that’s what the internet tells them is “normal”. We must all listen and acknowledge – however shocking it may be.

@marisajbate

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