Nicola has announced she is launching a local Sexual Harassment Inquiry, working alongside key charities and community groups to hear direct from young people, schools and the City’s universities as well as frontline services and understand more about responses to harassment and gender-based violence as well as attitudes to women and relationships more broadly.
Alongside Nicola will be Sarah Green, Co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Lisa Ward, director of the Oxfordshire Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre and Charlotte Semler, a local mother and businesswoman, as well as young people themselves.
This comes after a number of recent sexual assaults in the City and other high profile cases including the Bullfinch Inquiry, and is an area Nicola has long campaigned in. In fact over the past year Oxfordshire has seen a 196% increase in reports of sex offences, and research has also shown that 75% of girls and young women say anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives and behaviour in some way.
The inquiry will take written and oral evidence, before reaching recommendations to present to Ministers, and will formally launch in April.
Nicola, Sarah, Lisa and Charlotte on why this inquiry is so important in our area:
Oxford knows all too well how crucial it is that we listen to and protect the most vulnerable young people when it comes to sexual relationships. We all have a collective responsibility to make sure our young people develop a healthy attitude to relationships and learn the importance of consent and respect.
Revelations of a child grooming ring operating in the city shocked our community, as did the murder of Jayden Parkinson and the review that followed showing a ‘fundamentally flawed’ response to domestic abuse reports by key agencies. From an early age the way in which young people learn and interact is undoubtedly linked to relationships. As such, as they make their way through school and university, how we respond to issues surrounding sexual relations is of the utmost importance.
A shocking report this week has shown that reports of sexual harassment by staff at our universities have hit a record high, and Oxford University has the highest number of allegations against staff by students. Further, a national survey on sexual harassment found that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places, two thirds of women report having experienced sexual harassment in public places and a third of having experienced unwanted sexual touching. We would argue that there is a clear relationship between street harassment, sexual harassment in public places and other forms of sexual abuse.
That is precisely why we are launching a Sexual Harassment Inquiry here in Oxford, calling on local agencies working in child protection and young people’s education to come before our panel and tell us how they respond to harassment, and to determine the areas which need to be improved. Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre has direct experience supporting survivors of abuse and harassment and the End Violence Against Women Coalition is working at a national level to take strategic and coordinated action across all forms of violence against women and girls.
We each bring different perspectives and experiences, and we plan to call on the city’s universities, schools, Police force, social services, local community organisations, and, where possible, young victims themselves to inform us about harassment policies as well as implementation and specific experiences. These hearings will take place locally, enabling a constructive dialogue to take place and, ultimately, to make recommendations directly to Government to facilitate real change.
We very much welcomed last week’s news that Relationships and Sex Education is to be made compulsory in schools; finally pupils will be taught about issues such as consent, sexting and online grooming. There can be no doubt that this is a huge step forwards. At the same time we must ensure that frontline services must be responding respond effectively, understanding the issues surrounding harassment and gender based violence, and that they are being held to account.
Today’s young people are living in an increasingly sexualised culture, and while of course most young men do treat women with respect, it remains the case that sexual harassment is on the rise and action must be taken. This inquiry comes at a crucial time and we hope that this evidence based approach will lead to essential change.