'Our clothes don’t define us': Parliament Hill pupils hold protest
- Credit: Maya Chinnappa
Pupils from Parliament Hill School are calling for improvements to teaching about sexual assault after a “shamefully insensitive and inadequate” presentation which formed part of Youth Safety Week.
Students from the Camden all-girls school wore red clothing on Friday in support of survivors of sexual assault and to challenge the presentation, which was delivered to years 8 to 11 last Monday.
It promoted the #NotALLMen hashtag and raised issues of self-harm and rape without giving prior warning.
One year 11 student said: “It left loads of girls being very triggered and there was no de-brief after, so we just left feeling very anxious about it.”
Some girls defied the school’s dress code on Friday by wearing heavy make-up, short skirts and ripped tights to challenge the school’s PowerPoint presentation, which suggested women should cover up to prevent being targets of sexual harassment and assault.
A year 11 Parliament Hill student said: “We want to send a message to the world that our clothes don’t define us.”
Many students praised the school for its handling of the incident after it apologised for the offence caused, and agreed to make changes.
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However, students said they hoped the protest would highlight that the onus should not be placed on them but rather, boys should be educated about sexual assault.
One year 11 student said: “This isn’t just a problem with Parliament Hill School, schools up and down the country need to address the way they teach sexual assault.
“Unfortunately, our school’s way of educating us about this issue is not uncommon.”
Another year 11 student said: “We’re just trying to work towards a bigger issue rather than just the presentation. It’s not really about that anymore.”
Throughout the week, Parliament Hill students launched a poster campaign displaying messages in their school and across social media, some of which read “men are being held accountable” and “revealing clothes do not make rapists, rapists make rapists”.
Headteacher Sarah Creasey said: “This social action is fully supported by the school and we are very proud that girls at Parliament Hill are independent, confident and feminist in their outlook.
“A tutorial was recently given to students which covered general points relating to personal safety, including advice on how students can look after themselves.
“We are not afraid of discussing challenging issues at Parliament Hill and the #NotALLMen hashtag was also raised as an issue during the tutorial, with strong feelings expressed.”
A mother of three daughters at the school, Honey Halit, supported her daughters’ participation in the “thought-provoking” protest.
She said: “The school is all about girl power and getting girls to use their voices.”
One father, Sacha Skarbek, said his 11-year-old daughter was not shown the presentation but felt strongly about challenging the messages presented.
He said: “The thing that stuck with me was she was asking: ‘Why do we need to be educated about what we’re wearing? Surely it should be the boys or men should be educated?’"
He added: “What was quite disappointing and made me fairly angry was that she asked me to walk with her because felt scared and intimidated even on a walk to school with a slightly shorter skirt and a bit of make-up on.”
The father believes it is the responsibility of men to address the problem and suggested all-boys and co-ed schools should be the focus of sexual assault education.
He said: “It needs to be a cultural change.”
Mother-of-two Claudia said her daughters were upset by the references to #NotALLMen in the presentation and the implication that their choice of outfit would determine their safety.
She said: “It was quite shocking to see what the girls were being told and in this day and age, you can’t tell that to these girls, it’s just wrong.
“The school is wonderful and they are generally doing the right thing but the focus has to shift from teaching the girls how to dress towards the boys’ education.
“There shouldn’t be victim blaming or making the girls feel responsible”, she added.
Many girls at the school were encouraged by the solidarity that their fellow students had shown over the week as students from year 7 up to sixth formers were involved in the campaign.
One sixth former said: “It’s nice that everyone’s getting together, especially as it’s a girls’ school because we all know how it feels.”