Equipping young people to navigate contemporary digital cultures in and around school.
The aim of this project is to take knowledge and information about technology-facilitated gender-based and sexual violence (TFGBSV) and how young people can challenge it.
Our goal is to create content relevant to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum, training teachers around these issues and how to deliver this content to students.
This research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project started in September 2021 and will end in August 2022.
- Professor Jessica Ringrose (IOE)
In 2015, a group of girls set up a Twitter account as part of their secondary school feminist society. Less than an hour after posting their first tweet, they received a barrage of angry, sexualised responses.
Over the coming weeks, they were attacked, threatened, and belittled. The girls were told to 'kill themselves', called 'Feminazis,' sent porn links, had official statistics on sexual violence challenged, told to 'shut up' and 'make me a sandwich.'
Since 2014, we have been studying young people's use of digital technologies to challenge gender inequality, sexism and harassment (Mendes et al. 2019).
While digital technologies offer new possibilities for change, they make those who speak out vulnerable to vicious, often gendered, sexualised and racialised trolling.
TFGBSV is a significant public concern around the world (Bailey 2015; Bailey and Mathen 2017; Bailey et al. 2017; Dietzel at press; Dunn 2020; Flynn et al. 2021; Khoo 2021; Regehr 2020). It can include sexual name calling or sexual rumour spreading using technology, the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images, online harassment, upskirting, cyberstalking, and doxing (5Rights Foundation 2021; Horeck et al. 2021; Ringrose et al. 2021; Vepsä 2021).
Although it affects people of all ages, this violence can be particularly impactful to young people who may be targeted by members of their peer group or by adults that they know in person or have met online. While TFGBSV is a broad public concern, it is not consistently taught in school.
Although a new RSE Curriculum was meant to become mandatory in 2020, this was delayed because of the pandemic. At the same time, teachers have not received training on how to deliver this curriculum.
Working closely with the School of Sexuality Education, we have developed workshops and resources for students, parents, and teachers around TFSV and gender-based and sexual violence (GBSV).
To date, these workshops and resources have reached over 900 teachers and school leaders, 1,300 young people, and 280 parents across England, Ireland, and Canada.
Schools are currently ill-equipped to deliver RSE content on the topic of TFGBSV, or RSE more generally.
Some schools are inherently unsafe. As a result, it can be risky to deliver content on GBSV without proper supports and resources for students.
Teachers are not trained to teach RSE, and few resources are currently available in schools to deliver high quality RSE. Instead, until teachers are equipped with skills and knowledge around these topics, they are best taught by professionals.
Most teachers are currently ill-equipped to deliver content that requires an intersectional understanding of power and sexual violence.
Students desperately want a comprehensive RSE curriculum that reflects their lived experiences.
They want a curriculum that is intersectional and inclusive for students of all genders and sexualities.
They want to see material that reflects their lived experiences, giving them a chance to understand, and at times re-frame experiences.
- Comprehensive relationships and sex education
Students need to be taught about sexual and gender-based violence from an early age, and how it can be facilitated by technologies.
Parents and schools have key roles to play in this education, and young people desperately want more information from diverse sources (including RSE curriculum) to help them form, manage, and maintain healthy relationships.
Young people of all genders expressed the ways that many harmful practices such as sending and receiving unsolicited sexual images are routinely ‘normalised,’ and how potential negative consequences are often dismissed.
Working with a sex education charity, the School of Sexuality Education, we are piloting and rolling out two workshops for students, and accompanying teacher training workshops, which meets this need.
- School policy
We recommend that schools adopt specific sexual and gender-based violence policies (including those addressing the prevalence of technology facilitated sexual violence).
They also need to develop diverse strategies for reporting, and victim support mechanisms for dealing with (online) gendered harms and sexual violence.
- Government policy
The Department for Education and Ofsted must provide clearer language and terminology relating to the scope and forms of technology facilitated gender and sexual violence. This will help young people to recognize practices which are often normalised, trivialised, or dismissed.
Current policies do not reflect the breath of young peoples’ lived experiences, particularly digitally facilitated risks and harms, nor offer advice on appropriate victim supports.
- Government funding
The government should invest funding into RSE curriculum. In the short term, this includes both Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and investment in Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) programmes to include training on delivering RSE, as well as additional funding for schools to bring experts in to teach this content.
In the long run, we hope that all teachers receive basic training in delivering RSE, and schools take seriously RSE as an important part of the curriculum that encourages a child’s holistic development.