School’s Response to Reports of Harmful Sexual Behaviours
The information below is not a school policy. It aims to help students understand how the School will respond to reports of harmful sexual behaviour. The School teaches important lessons about consent and healthy relationships as part of the personal development programme.
All members of the community, including pupils, parents, staff and leaders have a responsibility to play an active role in challenging inappropriate behaviour and in promoting mutual respect.
The School has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and sexual harassment. A zero-tolerance approach means that they have no place in the school community and any pupil who reports any harmful sexual behaviour will be taken seriously, listened to, and supported.
Sexual behaviour exists on a continuum from normal and developmentally expected, to inappropriate, problematic, abusive and violent. It can occur online and/or face to face (physically or verbally). The ages and stages of a pupil’s development may be relevant when responding to harmful sexual behaviour.
Addressing inappropriate behaviour (even if it appears to be relatively harmless) can be an important intervention that helps prevent problematic, abusive and/or violent behaviour in the future.
Our commitment to you
We are committed to taking any report of harmful sexual behaviour seriously, to listening to victims and to supporting them. We will respond in a proportionate and fair way and will take your wishes into account. The School also has legal responsibilities which must be considered. These are explained below in the Frequently Asked Questions.
Please note that further information on the references in italics in the answers can be found in the links within the final box.
Your questions answered
There are several ways that you can let the School know that you, or another person has been the victim of Sexual Violence or Harassment:
1.You can tell a trusted member of staff such as your tutor or HoH (Head of House). In fact, you can tell anyone who works at Berkhamsted; all teachers, nursing staff, counsellors and chaplaincy team are trained to talk with pupils about these matters and will take them seriously.
2.You can email the Whisper Inbox – this can be found on the pupil dashboard of the Hub. This service is automatically anonymous, but you can add your name/email address to the information you provide. Because this service is anonymous the School cannot always act on information provided. Speaking to a member of staff is the best way to act.
The School will listen to you and take your report seriously. You will not be in any trouble for reporting an incident in which you were the victim, and you will not be judged. You will be able to give as little or as much detail as you would like – school staff will not ask lots of intrusive questions and will ask you to explain what happened in your own words if you are comfortable doing so. The school counsellors will be available to provide ongoing support. The school staff will ask you how they can best support you moving forward. With your agreement, your teachers may be contacted to let them know that you are going through a difficult time which may have an impact on your schoolwork although no further details would be shared.
Sexual Violence refers to sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Act 20031 and includes: rape, assault by penetration, sexual assault, and causing someone to engage in sexual activity without consent.
Sexual assault – A person (A) commits an offence of sexual assault if: s/he intentionally touches another person (B), the touching is sexual, B does not consent to the touching and A does not reasonably believe that B consents. (Schools should be aware that sexual assault covers a very wide range of behaviour so a single act of kissing someone without consent or touching someone’s bottom/breasts/genitalia without consent, can still constitute sexual assault.2)
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. It is likely to violate a person’s dignity, and/or make them feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and/or create a hostile, offensive or sexualised environment. Sexual harassment can include (the list is not exhaustive): sexual comments, lewd comments, sexualised names, sexual remarks about clothes/appearance, sexualised names, interfering with someone’s clothes, sexual jokes or banter, displaying images of a sexual nature, deliberately brushing against someone, consensual and non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nude images, pseudo images or videos, upskirting, sexualised online bullying, unwanted sexual comments and messages, including on social media, sexual exploitation, coercion and threats.
The School has a legal duty to report criminal behaviour but will always try as far as possible to ensure that the victim’s wishes are taken into consideration Where a report of rape, assault by penetration or sexual assault is made, the starting principle is that this should be referred on to the police. Referrals to the police will often be a natural progression of making a referral to children’s social care.
The School may refer to Hackett’s Continuum3 and/or the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light tool and/or When to Call the Police – Guidance for Schools4 when deciding whether to refer behaviour to children’s social care and/or the police.
Yes, anyone can report a crime directly to the police. The police may subsequently contact the School about the report in which case the School would communicate with the pupil and his/her/their parents accordingly.
Behaviour which is violent or abusive on Hackett’s Continuum (see below) will be reported to children’s social care and/or the police. It is possible that problematic behaviours may also be referred. Other behaviours can be dealt with within school whilst considering the wishes of any victim(s). In these cases, in-school restorative and/or punitive approaches can be considered.
2. The Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool
A) Whilst “green” behaviours are deemed to be “safe and healthy” by Brook we must remember that they can still be harmful to an extent as they can be the “bottom rung of the ladder” – for example, jokes about sex can easily become misogynistic or homophobic if taken too far. Behaviours in the “green” column could still be unacceptable depending on the context.
B) “Amber” behaviours are concerning and would certainly be addressed by the School. This might include working with parents in partnership or it might mean reporting the behaviour to the police if necessary. In-school restorative and/or punitive approaches can also be considered in these cases.
C) It is likely that “red” behaviours on the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool will be referred to children’s social care and/or the police.
If a referral is made to the police, the police will decide whether to investigate what has happened. The police listen to the victim and tend to ensure that the victim maintains a sense of control or agency. They often offer the victim the choice of taking no further action, of offering to speak in only an educational capacity with the alleged perpetrator or to press charges against the alleged perpetrator. The options are clearly explained and the victim is given time to consider what he/she/they would like to do.
The School works closely in partnership with parents to support pupils. The School will normally keep parents informed about what has happened unless there is good reason to believe that this would be counterproductive or place the pupil in greater danger. Whilst pupils are initially understandably concerned about their parents learning about harmful sexual behaviour, pupils almost always feel reassured that their parents are made aware and can support them through a difficult time.
No. No other pupils will be informed about what has happened unless it is as part of an investigation that the School is conducting. If a referral is made to children’s social services or the police, the alleged perpetrator(s) and his/her/their parents are likely to be informed as the School also has a duty of care towards the perpetrator(s).
Whether a matter is dealt with internally and a sanction is used or whether it is referred to external agencies, the School cannot share details of the actions or sanctions with others. This may lead pupils to form the impression that no action has been taken when that is not the case.
In consultation with the pupil, the member of staff in charge of his/her/their pastoral care may be informed about what has happened so that appropriate support can be provided. Other members of staff will not be informed unless it is as part of a risk assessment which is completed in consultation with the pupil(s) concerned. The risk assessment is completed to keep pupils safe.
The School also has a regulatory duty to “to provide the alleged perpetrator(s) with an education and safeguarding support as appropriate”. Taking disciplinary or restorative action may also occur simultaneously. Where cases are referred to the police, the School cannot investigate what has happened – any investigation carried out by the school could invalidate a police investigation. However, the School does strive to support both the victim(s) and the alleged perpetrator(s). This may involve creating risk assessments to highlight and minimise any risks within school.
Yes, and we hope that all pupils would do so to prevent anyone having to suffer being a victim and to ensure that Berkhamsted has a culture where nobody accepts inappropriate or harmful sexual behaviour.
The School will listen to you and ask what you would like to happen. It may be that an educational and restorative approach is possible with a view to preventing such behaviour from recurring. You will also be praised for coming forward. Tackling the lower-level inappropriate behaviour can prevent a culture from developing in which more serious behaviours are likely to happen.
Yes, you can. We would encourage pupils to go directly to the police where sexual violence has occurred outside school as the School will have to report the disclosure to the police as well. The same is true for any online activity which may be criminal. The School’s role is such situations is to make referrals where appropriate and to support pupils. It is not to conduct investigations into what has happened outside of school.
The most important thing is to discuss consent before engaging in any sexual activity. If you are in any doubt about whether your sexual partner can give consent willingly and freely, you must stop immediately. If you are in doubt, you must doublecheck that your partner wants to participate in the sexual act. If you do not, the consequences could be significant.
It is important to be clear with a partner about what you would or would not like to do. Pupils are therefore advised to communicate clearly about consent and not to make any assumptions around consent being given based on their interpretation of a situation. The only assumption that should be made is that consent has not be given. Consent should never be challenged in any way – “No means no, not persuade me!” and pupils are advised to remove themselves immediately from any situation in which a partner is putting pressure on them to engage in activity with which they are not comfortable.
Pupils are advised to stop before engaging in any form of sexual activity to check that the other person gives their consent freely and willingly. As pupils will know from the School’s teaching around consent, consent cannot be given by someone who is drunk. If there is any doubt about whether someone has drunk too much to be able to give consent, you must assume that they have not given consent. The law states that the responsibility will always lie with the man in cases of rape. Remember that consent to sexual activity can also be withdrawn at any time. And consent to sexual activity on one occasion does not mean that consent is given for future occasions.
A couple who may have engaged in sexual activity before should therefore discuss consent again the next time one of them would like to engage in sexual activity. Having a sexual relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend does not mean that consent can be assumed – if your partner is not in the mood for sexual activity, their feelings must be respected. This is important especially because “textual analysis of the publicly available testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website indicates that, where a relationship to the perpetrator is named, around two thirds of the testimonies say that the perpetrator was known to them and around a fifth was a boyfriend.5”
If porn is violent, it can make harmful sexual behaviour more likely. In a recent study6 of behaviours in popular porn, nearly 90% percent, of over 300 randomly selected scenes contained physical aggression toward women while close to half contained verbal humiliation. The victims almost always responded neutrally or with pleasure. More worryingly the women would sometimes initially resist abuse, asking the men to stop, but then give in to the man’s desires. And more than half of boys reported that they believe the content they see in porn is a realistic portrayal of sex. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Boys should be aware that watching pornography, especially if it contains coercion or violence, can have a subliminal and harmful impact on their development and may make it more likely that they will see sexual violence as the norm.
Pornography leads to boys learning not only the wrong messages about sex, but dangerous ones. They are learning lessons that are potentially extremely harmful not just to girls but to themselves as well. Karen Ingala Smith runs an anti-violence7 charity and has reported in the media that she can see women reporting issues that are directly related to what men have seen in porn. Porn does not have to include violence – there have been recent discussions on the BBC about “ethical” porn and how it could help to reduce violence against women.
Harmful sexual behaviours tend to build up over time. They progress up a ladder from low level poor behaviour such as sexist comments, wolf-whistling and homophobia up the scale through harassment to assault. Behaviour becoming normalised and accepted by peers at one rung of the ladder helps a person to progress further. For these reasons, it is important that all members of the community challenge unacceptable language or behaviour which can become the “first rung of the ladder” towards sexual violence. Peer pressure to behave in a respectful manner is one of the best ways of stopping such behaviours.
We should all guard against the objectification of others and make sure that we see any partners as sexual subjects rather than objects whose wishes, desires and feelings we consider with due care. Nipping things in the bud early may be saving people from extremely traumatic experiences, so let’s all take action to challenge any unacceptable language or behaviour.
Occasionally people end up becoming more vulnerable to being the victims of all sorts of crimes because they are no longer able to protect themselves. It is important that you look after your friends and, if they are unwell and unable to look after themselves as they would normally, you should stay with them and make sure that they get home safely.
It is important be assertive in clearly articulating what you are not happy about. Do not accept being treated in a manner which you do not like. If your partner pressurises you to do things with which you are uncomfortable or does not listen to you, be assertive in saying “no”, remove yourself from the situation and end the relationship. Remember that giving consent on one occasion does not mean that you have to do so again in the future. It is worth seeking advice from a trusted adult or from a support service (see below).
Footnote – Reference Citations
6. Girls and Sex – Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
Where can I get further support?
Where can I get further information?
The School’s Safeguarding Policy
Keeping Children Safe in Education 2021
Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges
Ofsted Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges