SCHOOLGIRLS across Scotland are being subjected to “shocking” and “toxic” levels of sexual harassment and abuse on a daily basis. The scandal of harassment in Scottish schools was laid bare by young women and campaigners who told the Sunday Herald that action must be taken immediately.

Complaints by schoolgirls included:

lIntimidating cat-calling and verbal harassment in the corridors including casual use of words such as “slut” “whore” and “bitch”;

Unwanted touching, groping and grabbing;

Boys watching violent and explicit porn in school time;

Problems with sexting, where intimate images of girls are widely shared at school via text and social media;

Teachers shaming girls for “promiscuity”;

A lack of any education around issues such as consent, leaving young people without a proper understanding of what constitutes abuse or rape;

Issues around uniform – with girls being told short skirts mean male staff “don’t know where to look”, and girls being singled out or sent home if they show “too much flesh”;

Girls being disciplined by teachers for “over-reacting” if they call out boys who have harassed them.

The damning testimony comes as revelations of sexual harassment and violence continue to emerge across the entertainment industry and in both Westminster and Holyrood. Unions are also warning that women in “ordinary” workplaces across the UK are forced to put up with abuse on a daily basis.

Police Scotland figures on sexual crimes released in September this year that show that at least 43 per cent of the 10,273 sexual crimes recorded in 2015-16 related to a victim under the age of 18. Campaigners argue that many more go unreported.

The Sunday Herald gathered information on the sexual harassment and abuse of schoolgirls in Scotland from organisations including Rape Crisis and Zero Tolerance, which campaigns to end male violence, as well as Girlguiding Scotland and Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People. Rape Crisis Scotland is now developing a pilot project, in partnership with Zero Tolerance, aimed at challenging the culture which fosters sexual harassment, violence and gender inequality in schools.

The work is influenced by the experiences of over 13,000 young people in schools across Scotland from the Borders to the Western Isles who attended workshops by Rape Crisis on consent and healthy relationships. The feedback from many of the young girls involved was shared with the Sunday Herald. Coordinator Sandy Brindley said: “Young women in particular speak to us about how common sexual harassment is – that for many girls it is an every day part of their lives, whether it is comments, touching, or pressure to share intimate images, pressure which can be relentless.

“This behaviour has a significant impact on the wellbeing of girls and young women. We have found schools to be as concerned as we are about this issue. It is crucial that this is taken seriously.”

Representatives of STAMP, a group of young women and men campaigning against gender inequality and supported by Rape Crisis, said that a recent survey they carried among pupils in Scotland highlighted shocking examples. One young woman surveyed claimed she was disciplined for reacting loudly to a boy who inappropriately touched her in class. It was later suggested to her parents that she should change classes.

Boys surveyed also raised concerns about the “toxic culture” of everyday sexism which forced them into “constrictive” masculine roles.

Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Commissioner for Young People and Children, said: “It’s absolutely shocking and this is happening every day to young girls across Scotland. We can no longer brush it aside. Now we need to take action. We can no longer pretend that it’s not happening or that it is in any way acceptable. We know that this cuts across how girls view themselves, their education and affects their physical and mental health. It’s a serious human rights issue.”

He joined calls made by both Girlguiding UK and Girlguiding Scotland, which have campaigned on the issue, for national guidance in schools to include harassment as part of anti-bullying strategies, which are now statutory, and enhanced teacher training.

One young woman in her late teens from Girlguiding Scotland told the Sunday

Herald that she and her friends experienced frightening

and demeaning harassment on a

daily basis at school.

She added: “Schools are ill equipped to deal with the new and constantly changing pressures girls face. By not addressing these issues at school we allow young women and men to go into the adult world believing this behaviour is acceptable. We have seen the impact this can have very clearly over the last few weeks, in both the entertainment industry and our own parliaments.”

Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for communities and equality and co-chair of the Equally Safe committee, the Scottish Government’s strategy

to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, said it was “absolutely critical” that sexual harassment in schools was tackled and applauded the courage of young women now speaking up.

“Schools aren’t immune from the challenges we face in society,” she said. “Young women are having to face issues around sexism and misogyny. We really need to listen and act on that. If we are serious about this – and we are – it requires system change. We as a country need culture change. We can’t under-estimated the importance of supporting our young people.”

A spokeswoman for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union, which last year issued guidance on misogyny to schools said it was vital that teachers could access relevant training to help them deal with harassment. She added: “Sexual harassment is often dismissed as ‘banter’ or ‘just a joke’, but behaviour that makes girls or women feel ashamed, humiliated, undermined or frightened should never be minimised: it should be stamped out.”

HOW TO DO IT DIFFERENTLY: the school tackling Scotland’s sexist culture head-on

"We consider ourselves to be a typical Scottish school with typical pupils walking through our doors,” says Lorna Lawson, deputy head at St John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton. But though it might be typical, the school has decided to take a radical approach to sexual harassment. St John Ogilvie is the first “pilot school” in Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis’ Scotland Equally Safe At School project. There will be eight in total.

The schools will work with campaigners over the next three years, with the aim of radically re-examining its culture and finding innovative ways to address gender inequality, harassment and abuse. “Where better to start than here in a school?” says Lawson who is all too aware of the global dimension to the problem she is trying to tackle. “Our young people face a lot of peer pressure and we are ideally situated to change some of their perceptions.

“We’ve had special assemblies for every year-group and done scene setting on what a more equal society would look like.” She reels off examples: “The eradication of violence against women, equal pay, jobs that aren’t gendered and an environment where harassment and sexism aren’t tolerated, where sexist insults or jokes are not tolerated or given air-time.”

She stresses how the current climate affects boys as well as girls. “You might be surprised by who wants to talk,” she adds. “Stereotypes tell us that its young girls that are effected but a lot of boys feel compelled to act in ways that they don’t want to. It’s damaging for them too.”

The anti-sexual harassment programme at St John Ogilvie’s will be led by 10 pupils, boys and girls who have each submitted a statement of intent to stamp out sexism and been teamed with five staff to form an action group. No stone will be left unturned as views are sought on how to create a school in which all boys and girls are treated equally.

“I think this process means we are already looking at everything through a slightly different lens,” Lawson notes. “We’ve started to peel things back and have another look and wonder. It raises our awareness. I think this is relevant to every school in the country.”

SLUT-SHAMING, SEXISM AND VIOLENT PORN: welcome to the world of the Scottish schoolgirl

IAM in the offices of Rape Crisis in Hamilton. Erin Slaven, 20, and Morgan Harris and Katie Davies, both 18, are telling me that they are all well versed in the “background noise” of sexual harassment familiar to schoolgirls across Scotland.

Not long out of school, they, like their peers, were experts back in the classroom when it came to choosing a skirt that’s short enough not to be branded prudish and not so short it gets you sent home, told you are “distracting”, or called a slut. And. like girls in every school in the land, they dealt with sexist “banter” in the school corridor.

Today, as campaigners and members of STAMP – a group supported by Rape Crisis which fights to end gender inequality – they have talked to hundreds of young people. They’ve heard the same stories over and over again – from the degrading bra-strap pinging, to groping and worse. Now, they say, it’s time for action.

First on the list of things to do is ensuring there is proper education in schools on sex and healthy relationships. They insist it is time to put consent on the curriculum.

Morgan Harris notes that many young people start university without an understanding of what the word “consent” means.

“If consent isn’t an issue or considered important on the curriculum it feels like you aren’t important,” says Katie Davies, who is now in her first year of Aeronautical Engineering at Glasgow University.

“I was at a seminar and a lawyer speaking said consent is ‘when it is as easy to say no as it is to say yes’. That’s exactly what it is. I didn’t realise that and I can guarantee most people I went to school with don’t either.”

When education about sex and relationship education isn’t properly available in schools, pupils look online and find porn. Erin Slaven, a third-year politics student, says: “People are sharing [porn], and watching it even in school. Some of it is quite violent, and if we’re not getting sex education, no wonder they [school pupils] have no clue about consent.”

How does that make them feel? “I feel so let down, to be honest,” says Davies. “Because school should be the place I go to learn and it should feel

totally safe.

“It should be like a second home and I should be able to walk in there and get some knowledge and socialise with my friends and not be subjected to that.”

The generation gap between young people and their parents and teachers is a big issue. These young women grew up online and can’t remember a world without mobile phones.

Law student Harris says sexting is a major problem. “Someone [a girl] has sent an image, the boy has sent it to all his pals and half the school has seen this intimate image before any of the teachers even know about it,” she says.

“The way to combat that is supposedly don’t send it, but that’s not taking into account all the external factors, the extremely sexualised environment, the idea that if you don’t do it you are a prude, that you need to keep this

person happy.”

Teachers and parents don’t know how to handle it, she claims. At a training event for teachers organised by STAMP, she asked what could be done to support a girl whose image had been shared and was shocked by their silence. Why not talk to the girl, she asked, make sure the image hasn’t gone online, get it taken down or put them in touch with Childline?

The young women from STAMP are hopeful that change might be coming. Suki Wan, vice-chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament and its member for Shettleston, agrees.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point,” she says. “Young women are opening up about their experience and about the culture. If they are prepared to be open, people need to be listening and trying to change things.”