Girls are being forced to wear shorts under their school skirts to stop boys taking upskirting photos, a teachers’ leader has claimed. Dr Mary Bousted, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), believes sexual harassment is becoming “normalised” in schools, due to the increase in kids who have camera phones.
Bousted said upskirting is happening in some primary schools, but mainly in secondary schools. “I think it is something [boys] have advised each other to do,” she told The Telegraph. “It can happen in an instant: sending [the photo] around, and then giving the name of the girl - that is the worst thing, the absolute humiliation, the embarrassment and shame. Social media just provides a new vehicle, another way that girls can be harassed.”
Bousted believes boys need help to discuss and understand how something that may have been intended to be a joke could be traumatic for girls.
“Reports of ‘upskirting’ in schools are extremely concerning, particularly within the wider context of peer-on-peer abuse,” they said. “Through relationships and sex education, all children should be taught about consent and boundaries in an age-appropriate way to help them understand about healthy relationships and how to treat others. Alongside this learning at school, it is vital there are regular parent-child conversations at home which promote positive behaviour and identify when something is not right.”
So how can parents address the issue of upskirting with their sons?
Start as young as possible.
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, says talking to boys (and girls) about bodies, boundaries, privacy, images and respect for each other must start at an early age. “It is too late when young people already have their own smartphone,” she says.
Isabel Inman, from sexual health charity Brook, agrees and urges that these discussions shouldn’t be a one-off lesson, but should be continuous, age-appropriate conversations in order to normalise sex and relationships and create a safe environment where young boys feel they can ask questions.
Speak openly and honestly about it.
Laura Hannah, education and wellbeing lead at Brook, says starting a conversation is one thing, but ensuring it is honest and open is another thing you should take into account. “It is important to talk honestly with your children about this. Initiating conversation around this topic will not encourage them to take part in upskirting, but will give them space to reflect on this behaviour with an adult,” she says. “Asking a child if they have seen this happen and how they feel about it and what they think the consequences are is a starting point.”
Professor Clare McGlynn, professor of law at Durham University, who has expertise in the legal regulation of pornography, image-based sexual abuse and sexual violence, said one way to talk about upskirting if you haven’t heard of it happening locally, would be to talk to your sons about news stories surrounding upskirting to spark a discussion.
“They need to know it’s not funny, it’s not harmless, it’s not banter. It is harassment, abuse and a breach on young girls’ rights."”
Try to find an analogy to explain it.
Jeremy Todd, CEO of Family Lives says it could be helpful to try and find an analogy when discussing upskirting - “How would they feel if someone was to take a picture of them?” It’s worth acknowledging that they may not understand this is something that causes distress, but this is exactly what it’s doing. He adds: “Tell them this is an image taken without consent and say, ‘It’s a bit like if you were to touch a girl and she didn’t want to be touched, it’s exactly the same’.”
Emphasise the seriousness of it.
Professor McGlynn says it’s important to emphasise that upskirting can be really harmful. “Some young people – boys and girls – have taken their own lives after images have been taken and shared of them without their agreement,” she says. “They need to know it’s not funny, it’s not harmless, it’s not banter. It is harassment, abuse and a breach on young girls’ rights. They should be able to wear what they like at school without worrying about what boys will do or say.”
Green agrees and adds that parents should remind boys upskirting “causes real fear in girls” and the boys taking and sharing images actually cannot control where they will end up and can’t ever retrieve them once uploaded.
Address it straight away if you hear of it happening.
If you hear of an instance like this happening in your child’s school, a school nearby or through friends, Todd says it is important to address it immediately with your son. This includes if your child has been involved in an upskirting offence. “If parents are concerned or observe anything of this nature in a school setting, it needs to be addressed not ignored,” he says. “This is unacceptable behaviour. Boys need to see some action being taken - whether they understand at this point that it is unacceptable or not - they need to see there is a consequence to behaving in that way.”
Get in touch with the school.
Although speaking to your sons is important, it’s also worth contacting the school to see how they will be addressing the issue if it arises. Professor McGlynn believes it is vital that schools engage students in classes with experienced and expert tutors. “Schools need funds to buy-in expertise, or train properly their own teachers,” she says. “Classes given by those without expertise and training can make things worse.”