Statement: Patrick Costello TD demands action on national policy to combat sexual harassment in schools

Patrick Costello TD has today written to the Minister for Education for the second time imploring her to urgently introduce a national policy to combat sexual harassment in secondary schools.

Deputy Costello said: “Last year the RCNI delivered a report to Minister Foley which starkly demonstrated that sexual harassment is pervasive 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”.

In July last year Deputy Costello wrote to Minister for Education Norma Foley calling for her to bring forward a national policy to combat sexual harassment in schools. Since then, Rape Crisis NetworkIreland (RCNI) has met the Minister and presented their recommendations for the introduction of such a policy, however no progress has been forthcoming from the Department of Education despite the RCNI’s own research confirming sexual harassment remains endemic amongst our youth, with teenage girls and gender non-conforming children particularly vulnerable groups.

The Deputy continued: “The violent death of Ashling Murphy has spurred the country into addressing the issue of gender-based violence and femicide. To deal with this endemic problem we must examine the causes and address them at source. Challenging unacceptable behaviours during young people’s formative years in the school environment is imperative to this. I implore Minister Foley to urgently implement a national policy to combat sexual harassment in secondary education. Schools are hugely influential settings where young people spend significant periods of time. Therefore, the education system has an obligation to respond accordingly to any sign of harmful cultural norms coming from the school environment. The RCNI’s findings that sexual harassment continues to be normalised, denied, and minimised amongst girls is deeply 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, we cannot delay this action which goes to the heart of instilling positive attitudes towards women from an early age” concluded Deputy Costello.