YOUNG VOICES

Smartphones Are A 'Catalyst' For Sexual Harassment And Violence Against Young Women, Says Rape Crisis Charity

Latest guidelines on sex and relationship education was released in 2000.

29/11/2016 16:59 | Updated 30 November 2016

The government’s approach to tackling sexual harassment in schools has further been called into question after leading charity warned smartphones were a “catalyst” for the problem. 

A Commons Women and Equalities Committee report earlier this year found that 29% of 16-18 year old girls had experienced unwanted touching at school and 71% of students this age had heard schoolgirls regularly referred to as “slags” or “sluts”.

The government faced widespread criticism today after it proposed to take a “holistic school-based” approach to the issue, ignoring the committee’s recommendations for legislation.

Some have questioned how this approach will work when the government’s latest guidelines on sex and relationship education were released in 2000 - before the prevalence of smartphones and the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. 

Lynn Koenig via Getty Images
Smartphones have changed sexual relationships between young people, Rape Crisis said

Maria Miller, chair of the committee, said the government’s guidance needed to reflect “the realities of the 21st century rather than the pre-smartphone age.”

A spokesperson from leading charity Rape Crisis said the development of smartphones had created an “incredibly difficult situation” when it comes to the sexual harassment of schoolgirls. 

The charity highlighted the unwanted publishing of sexual images taken of young women for or by sexual partners as a particular problem. 

“Sexual images can be shared so much faster now,” a spokesperson said. “You can share them online with millions of people almost immediately - that’s terrifying.

“These technologies also mean that even if a school does have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, it’s not always possible for parents or teachers to be aware of this activity online as young people are often more tech savvy.” 

Rape Crisis said that the access to porn allowed to young people by smartphones also means the landscape of sexual harassment and violence is “totally different” to when current sex education guidelines were drawn up.  

“Porn has always existed but the volume and accessibility of extreme, sexist, misogynistic and even violent pornography thanks to the internet and smartphones in everyone’s pockets is stratospheric,” the spokesperson said. 

“It completely dehumanises women and girls and that can’t be good for fostering good, healthy relationships between young men and women.

“Porn definitely has to form part of an age-appropriate sex education now because young people can be exposed to this incredibly damaging material.”  

While the charity said some of the governments proposals had been “considered and thoughtful”, Rape Crisis called for the recommendations for legislation and compulsory sex education by the Women and Equalities Committee to be implemented in full. 

A spokesperson added: “Young people need to talk about the emotional and psychological impact it can have on a person when somebody sexual assaults, rapes or sexual harasses them. 

“Otherwise, they might minimise and normalise this behaviour as ‘banter’.” 

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