The importance of educating young people as early as possible against the dangers of “rape culture” becoming the norm was highlighted in a Sunday session of Limmud, with presenter Ilana Hutchinson of Jewish Women’s Aid.
The presentation was entitled “The impact of ‘Everyone’s Invited’ on the Jewish community”, and was an in-depth look at how to tackle sexual harassment at all levels. “Everyone’s Invited” is a website launched in June 2020 which attracted even more public attention after the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021, allowing people to share testimonies of their own experiences. The site now contains more than 54,000 separate testimonies.
Ms Hutchinson, who is the education manager of JWA, said that “a significant number of young people” had been asking to talk about sexual harassment in schools. The initial response from the Jewish community, she said, was “does this happen here?”
Her research suggests that sexual harassment is as sadly commonplace in Jewish schools as in the wider community, with that term standing for a wide variety of behaviours, from wolf-whistling and cat-calling, to “slut-shaming” of girls or “macho bullying” of boys who are not deemed to fit the ideal male stereotype.
Students are routinely groped, subjected to unwanted touching, abused verbally or on social media. or sent unwanted images. An Ofsted report in June 2021 indicated that out of 900 students surveyed, 90 per cent of girls and 58 per cent of boys were being sent explicit pictures or videos.
What was new, however, Ms Hutchinson said, was the willingness of schools to acknowledge the problem. For her part, she said, she did not want to turn up at a school on a Friday and give one talk and go away. “I want to embed my work into the curriculum of the school, so that I can help make changes”.
Sexual violence could be defined as “that which lacks consent”, she said, adding that initially some 16-17-year-olds were “very offended and defensive”, accusing school leaders or those in authority of “trying to spoil our fun”. But mostly, Ms Hutchinson said, teenagers were happy to have someone take their concerns seriously as one of the constant complaints was that if sexual harassment was reported, the school, or parents, would do nothing.
She believed that everyone could do something to alter behaviours so that “we can dismantle rape culture”. Jewish Women’s Aid wanted to educate young people towards “a greater knowledge and understanding, to give them the skills so that they can make a difference within their peer groups”.
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