OPINION - There's a rape culture in London's schools — we must swap it for a culture that cares

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Stark divisions between boys and girls are the norm in our schools. There is a massive lack of trust as boys fear false accusations and girls and non-binary pupils are shamed, harassed and assaulted in the corridors.

We need to help young people empathise with perspectives that differ from their own. Boys don’t understand what it’s like to be followed home and leered at in your school uniform on the street, what it feels to be labelled as “frigid” if you refuse to send a nude and a “slut” if you do. Girls don’t understand that their pleasure matters too, that they don’t have to conform to online pressures.

Boys and girls need to understand the harms of patriarchal and dominating models of masculinity that promote the dehumanisation of women and stifle male emotional literacy, stopping boys from speaking openly about their struggles and mental health.

The impact of trauma brought on by the experience of sexual violence should not be underestimated. It can profoundly alter a person’s life experience, triggering crippling mental illness, suicide, eating disorders, trust issues, lifelong struggles in intimacy and relationships and also damage university and career prospects.

Everyone’s Invited facilitator, writer and researcher Nathaniel Cole emphasises the importance of promoting “care” among boys and young men. Instead of being the loudest or the strongest, what if you were the most caring? What would happen if caring about and supporting your friends mattered too?

At home, parents could model positive behaviours such as open communication, empathy and vulnerability. They could strive to create non-judgmental spaces where young people feel safe to share their experiences with them, where they can talk about sex, porn, nudes and relationships. If we want to support the young and help them navigate the modern sexual landscape, defined by hardcore pornography consumption, extremist online misogyny and online sexual abuse, we need to destigmatise and eliminate the shame of these conversations.

At school, teachers need time to encourage friendship between all genders. Respect, compassion, trust and empathy will come next if all genders understand and view one another as equals, as fully formed humans with a diversity of unique experiences. We need to encourage a culture of care, love and nurture among boys, girls, non-binary pupils, and everyone. We need respect and reconciliation to address the prevalence of rape culture in schools and encourage fulfilling and loving equal relationships for all.

Soma Sara is an author, activist, speaker and chief executive of the anti-rape charity Everyone’s Invited