The Sheffield schoolgirls vowing to transform culture of sexual abuse in schools

There is a new feminist movement in town - and it is led by a group of 14-year-old girls from Sheffield who vow to transform the emerging culture of sexual abuse in schools.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 7:59 am

The girls, who are all students at High Storrs School, organised their first rally on May 19 on Devonshire Green to talk about these issues that they said are rarely talked about among their peers.

Devonshire Green was the same location where 'Reclaim Sheffield Streets' supporters gathered to pay tribute to Sarah Everard who was brutally murdered earlier this year, prompting public debate about women's safety.

And the time has come for them, and other young girls, to be at the forefront and educate the boys on the severity of sexual abuse that is often "brushed under the carpet."

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The organisers of Hold Them Accountable. From left: Soraya Batterley, Ziggy, Maya Spears, Amalie McLoughlin, Lola Mead, Anya Billington.

Amelie McLoughlin said they started the protest because they wanted to spread awareness about the pertinent issues and how common they are in general, whether in schools or in public settings.

"We wanted to make sure people know a lot about it. It was a way for people to express their feelings and experience.

"A lot of people, not just in my school, have been affected by sexual harassment or sexual assault," she said.

Lola Mead, said that there was a positive outcome from the protest, where the girls feel they could stand their ground to say that this is not acceptable anymore.

The girls at the protest on Devonshire Green on May 19.

"It was liberating for all of us, we are here together being in the environment and not keeping quiet about it," she said.

According to a recent survey by the BBC, it has been found that teachers across the nation said they do not feel equipped to deal with peer-to-peer sexual abuse because they have had no training.

Of 1,500 teachers surveyed, more than half said they did not think adequate procedures were in place in their schools to deal with abuse.

Meanwhile, almost a third said they had witnessed peer-on-peer sexual harassment or abuse and almost one in 10 said they saw it on a weekly basis.

Many are also unsure how to deliver elements of a new sex-and-relationships curriculum, which the government said third parties might now help with.

A debate surrounding an online campaign called ‘Everyone’s Invited’ where users can post anonymous testimonies of sexual assault and harassment had also escalated in recent months as thousands of testimonies that included accounts from girls aged as young as nine, claiming assault, harassment and rape were published.

Amelie said there something needs to be done in schools across Sheffield and across the UK.

"This needs to be spoken about because it is really important, especially in our generation. It is not something we should shy away from. Let's talk about how it affects us, and what we can do to change that in the future," she said.

Lola's mum, Charlotte Maed, said schools need to have a plan and High Storrs has realised the importance of addressing the students on sexual harassment or sexual assault since last year.

"It's brilliant that 14-year-old young women are standing up to say we are not prepared to have this part of our experience.

"In my teens, young women did not do that, and it wasn't talked about, because that's what happens if you are a girl and you need to put up with this.

"That has become normalised – they are taught not to speak up and told that this is what boys are like. This is not what boys are like.

“We are a society, we created this issue through inequality and I think it’s brilliant that they are not prepared to accept this anymore.

"Schools need to have an action plan, otherwise this goes on unchallenged because schools are a part of our society.

"This is not a school problem, it is a societal problem. Their environment is the school and this is the environment that they can try and change," she said.

The girls said their school has given them a platform to hold events within the premises and talk about raising awareness on sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Maya Spears said: "We had a lot of people who wanted to be part of it but couldn't come to the protest. We had teachers, and had a meeting with the headteacher too. They were very proud of us and very supportive of us."

The girls have also launched an Instagram page called "Hold Them Accountable" where they are campaigning to educate the masses on sexual harassment and sexual assault in schools.

According to Ziggy, having a social media page helps them in reaching out to these young girls, while at the same time, educating the people in particular, boys on the issue.

"Some boys in my year decided to call me names because I’m a feminist. There is some kind of gender war in my school.

"The boys I talked to on my personal Instagram page, over the course of a few weeks, I educated them on how certain things are offensive and why it’s not fair or right to call women names.

"Within a week, through the Internet, I’ve educated more boys to become decent human beings that the school has the entire time in general,” she said.

Anya Billington added: “This is so much more important because this is where we grow up to learn to be a part of society and if we're not talking how to actually behave in society, what good will that bring?

"Secondary schools are the place where we shape the people who are going to become adults and teach them how to behave.”