30 Mar Maria Miller: Tory MP says she suffered sexual assault at school as 10,000 report incidents of abuse
Maria Miller, former chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said it was “a routine part of life” and most other girls at her school had similar experiences.
The 57-year-old, who is calling for Ofsted to carry out an immediate inquiry into sexual abuse in schools, said the government has failed to take proper measures to tackle rape and sexual harassment in schools as she warned teachers often overlook the issue because it is so widespread.
Her comments come as the number of submissions to a website that records testimonies of sexual abuse soars – with the number of accounts now surpassing 10,600.
Ms Miller, who went to Brynteg Comprehensive School, one of the biggest secondary schools in Wales, told The Independent: “There will be a lot of mothers still concerned their daughters are experiencing what they were experiencing at school.
“I was sexually assaulted in school, just like most other girls. I went to a co-ed comprehensive school. It was a routine part of life. Unfortunately, when you look at the research on schools today, it is no different.
“In 2016, when I chaired the Women and Equalities Select Committee, our inquiry highlighted the real problem of sexual harassment. As a result, the government took a number of steps to address this issue. It is clear the steps didn’t have an effect.”
The Conservative MP for Basingstoke warned a systemic culture of not believing women who report sexual violence and “accepting” sexual abuse as simply being “part of women’s lives” filters down to teachers.
Ms Miller added: “We need to look carefully at our attitudes towards women. There is a great deal of inconsistency. The law is very clear sexual abuse is a crime, but in practice, it is simply accepted as part of women’s lives and not always believed.”
Prosecution and conviction for sexual assault and rape are historically low – with government data showing in the year to March just 1.4 per cent of 55,130 rape cases recorded by police resulted in prosecution.
Ms Miller, who chaired the Women and Equalities Select Committee from 2015 to 2020, said: “The inquiry I did in 2016 demonstrates schools don’t want to engage with these issues. They think they are too difficult to deal with because it is so widespread.
“If skirts being pulled up and bras being pinged at school is not being called out, it starts a feeling that sort of abusive behaviour is acceptable. Then you look at how that continues into the workplace.”
She said society has ignored a “huge body of evidence” that sexual harassment starts when women and girls are young – adding it “shatters girls’ confidence” and “undermines them during their formative years”.
“Most importantly, it starts girls and boys thinking that abusive relationships towards girls are routine,” Ms Miller said. “Schools have a clear responsibility to safeguard children”.
She said it was the responsibility of parents, teachers and wider society to teach children what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour – noting the culture which allows sexual violence to continue in schools must be overhauled.
Her comments come after reports from Department of Education sources that schools which fall short of safeguarding standards could be made to close their doors.
Everyone’s Invited, the site where people are submitting anonymous testimonies of sexual violence, now has a link to report crimes directly to the police.
The site was established last year as a platform for survivors to share anonymous accounts of rape and sexual abuse, harassment, assault – with its founder Soma Sara warning “rape culture” is an issue that spans across all schools.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has said the allegations on the site are “shocking and abhorrent” – warning schools should not be places “where young people feel unsafe” as he promised to take action to tackle the issue.
Prestigious London private schools such as Highgate School and Dulwich College are some of those which have said they will introduce measures to address the problem in the wake of the outpouring of testimonies.
A recent survey by UN Women discovered 97 per cent of young women in the UK said they had been sexually harassed, while 80 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces.
Researchers, who polled more than 1,000 women aged between 18 to 24, found the sexual harassment included being groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity.
A spokesperson for Brynteg Comprehensive School has been contacted for comment.