The term ‘rape culture’ has come to the forefront in recent months in relation to schools, children and young people. Dr Sophie King-Hill has recently appeared in the Times Education Supplement to talk about rape culture in schools. Here, she explores the meaning of the term, and looks at approaches and mindsets that will go some way to address the issue.
The term ‘rape culture’ has recently come to the forefront of discussions concerning schools. It refers to the normalisation, tolerance and victim blaming surrounding a range of sexually motivated behaviours. These may include 'up-skirting', derogatory comments, sexual jokes, touching without consent, shaming people for how they dress and present themselves, and online abuse. It is useful to consider whether it is appropriate to use the term ‘rape culture’ in schools to refer to the sexual harassment that has been outlined in recent reports, and what the terminology implies. The term is not a new one, but it has been used in sociological discussion since the 1970s to refer to the normalisation of rape, victim blaming and the trivialisation of violent sexual behaviours.
'Rape culture' has now been linked to the school setting due to a recent Ofsted report that highlighted sexual harassment as being a normal part of school life. This is also linked to the #metoo movement and the Everyone’s Invited website that has received over 15000 testimonials of instances of sexual harassment in schools. However, it is difficult to say if the problem is growing or if individuals feel more confident talking about these issues.
A lot of recent rhetoric has been centred around blaming boys and men for these issues. Whilst the data indicates that the majority of these acts are carried out by boys, a much wider lens needs to be taken. Blaming a whole gender collectively is damaging for all. Rape culture is complex and feeds into many other issues within society. This is underpinned by gendered expectations which influences current thinking and perspectives. Nevertheless, blame shuts down the valuable dialogue that has to be had across all genders, and the only way to begin addressing this problem is to take a restorative approach and listen to everyone. Reducing this issue will benefit all, yet taking a position of blame risks reinforcing the issues.
Dr Sophie King-Hill is a Senior Fellow within the Health Services Management Centre and has worked extensively in the third sector with many diverse groups. She specialises in sexual behaviours and first point assessment in children and young people, sexual health, controversial issues and teenage parents. Sophie also has an interest in policy implementation, transfer and success frameworks and evaluation strategies. Sophie is currently leading a Home Office-funded project, working with Rape Crisis to design a first point assessment tool in relation to sibling sexual abuse. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrSophieKH.