STATEMENT: Costello calls for end to Minister Foley’s inaction on national policy to combat sexual harassment in schools

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Green Party Spokesperson for Justice and TD for Dublin South-Central, Deputy Patrick Costello, has called for an end to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley’s inaction on implementing a national policy to tackle sexual harassment in second-level schools. Deputy Costello’s calls come following today’s launch of damning new research from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), which confirms sexual harassment remains endemic amongst our youth, with teenage girls and gender non-conforming children particularly vulnerable groups.

Speaking on the matter, Deputy Costello said: “Today’s report from the RCNI is a damning indictment of Minister Foley’s failure to address sexual harassment in second-level schools. In the twelve-month period May 2018 – April 2019, 80% of adolescents in the study disclosed being subjected to some form of sexual harassment, with 63% disclosing that they were subjected to someone making unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures in the school environment itself. Furthermore, nearly half of Irish adolescents do not know how to report sexual harassment, while three quarters of Irish adolescents do not know if their school has a sexual harassment policy.

“I have written to Minister Foley seeking the urgent implementation of a national policy to tackle these stark figures. Schools are hugely influential settings where young people spend significant periods of time and as such, the education system has an obligation to respond accordingly to any sign of harmful cultural norms coming from the school environment. The report’s indication that sexual harassment continues to be normalised, denied, and minimised amongst girls is particularly worrying.

“The framework for such a policy is already in place in third-level institutions so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It would ensure that every school has an explicit zero tolerance of sexual harassment and violence and would see a whole of system approach, moving from the classroom into the corridor. The policy would guarantee best practice and consistency to support the children involved, to reduce instances of secondary trauma, to prevent negative impacts on their school performance and interventions to ensure the victimisation does not become a further source of bullying.

“The impact of sexual harassment and violence in schools on a child’s education and mental health cannot be underestimated. As policy makers, we have a responsibility to address any culture which normalises such harassment and causes undue, long-term harm to our young people. After the publication of today’s research, continued inaction cannot be an option,” concluded Deputy Costello.