'Slag'. 'Gay'. 'Slut'. It's all just a bit of fun, isn't it?

25th September 2009 at 01:00
NSPCC accuses teachers of 'blind spot' when it comes to sexual bullying in schools

Teachers ignore and even laugh at sexual bullying because they do not realise the devastating impact words like whore, slag and slut have on children, the NSPCC has claimed.

The children's charity is calling for government action to tackle the problem, which child psychologists say has become rife.

Teachers have to record incidences of racist, cyber and religious bullying, and there are guidelines to help them deal with it. But there is no official advice on sexual bullying, or training for school staff.

Studies show that half of teenagers have regularly experienced groping or sexual name-calling, which the NSPCC says makes children feel unsafe in school.

Ministers have promised to publish sexual bullying guidelines and the NSPCC will share its own advice, in the form of a 10-point plan, at a conference on the issue next week.

"Sexual bullying has been a blind spot for years; name-calling is like a dripping tap and problems build up over time," said Elly Farmer, a clinical psychologist at the NSPCC.

"The question teachers need help on is when it becomes a child protection issue. Every study, both (at) home and abroad, shows very high levels (of bullying), but teachers still don't have to record incidents.

"They do want to do something about it, but don't know what, mainly because it is so common. Others don't want to do anything. It's perceived as just a bit of fun or teasing, and is not taken very seriously."

A 2008 survey showed that 37 per cent of teenagers were constantly called sexual names like "slag", 40 per cent had heard the word "gay" being used as an insult, and 25 per cent had overheard jokes about sexual assault or rape. A quarter had been sexually bullied on the internet.

A 2006 NSPCC poll found that 45 per cent of girls had been groped or sexually harassed by a male peer, and a 2007 NUT poll reported that two-thirds of teenagers heard sexual insults once a week. Around 38 per cent said teachers had witnessed this.

Dr Farmer says sexual bullying has a "huge" impact on teenagers, causing them to feel shame and anxiety. It can also give rise to unhealthy eating, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cause victims to internalise the way they see themselves, viewing their body as an object.

The NSPCC's guidance tells teachers how to spot sexual bullying and deal with it while not necessarily punishing the offenders, who may be unaware of the impact of their actions.

New resources from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to help teachers tackle the bullying of children with special educational needs and disabilities are now available. A DVD, Make Them Go Away, is aimed at children aged seven to 14.

Around eight out of 10 SEN and disabled pupils have experienced bullying, and they are also three times more likely to be abused.

David Miller, an NSPCC expert on child protection of SEN children and those with disabilities, said the pupils' inability to describe the bullying made it hard for teachers to tackle.

"Personal, social and health education lessons on bullying are also inaccessible for these children," he said. "Teachers need knowledge and experience to be able to help."

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