28 June 2021  Media Releases

Action needed to stop sexual violence against girls

A survey showing shocking rates of sexual violence against Christchurch teenage girls must lead to urgent action including consent and gender equality education for boys, Children Commissioner Andrew Becroft says.

Christchurch Girls High School has today publicised a survey of more than 750 of its students, who disclosed shocking rates of abuse, harassment and at least 20 counts of rape, much of which had never been reported.

“Sadly, this survey is the latest in a growing body of evidence about the extent of sexual violence against girls and LGBTQ+ teenagers in Aotearoa. It’s time for New Zealand to admit this is an epidemic, and it needs a national epidemic-level response.

“The survey is incredibly disturbing, and indicates widespread abusive, harassing behaviour, usually by boys and men against girls and LGBTQ+ students, was normalised both by the perpetrators and their victims.

“Growing up in Aotearoa, children and young people should feel and be safe. They should never have to feel on guard, or constantly fearful of being hurt or harassed. That is not and should never be normal.

“While the Christchurch survey is shocking, it would be surprising if similar results were not found throughout the country. Nevertheless, a national survey may be needed to galvanise government and public support for action.

“A nation-wide review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools in England recently found that teachers “consistently underestimate” the scale of the problem, and that sex education was out of touch with the reality of children’s lives.

“A nationwide survey or other engagement could help us provide solutions that match the reality of life for young people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Any such survey or engagement needs to be done well, with proper planning, resourcing and follow up.

Recent research from the University of Auckland highlighted the importance of boys and men examining their own ideas of masculinity to prevent violence against women and girls.

“Ultimately, abusive and harassing behaviour must be challenged if it’s going to stop. That means funding for better preventative measures for men and boys around consent, healthy relationships, and gender equality. It also means creating safe opportunities for girls to disclose harassment and abuse, so they don’t suffer in silence, and creating a culture where boys challenge abusive behaviour by their peers,” Commissioner Becroft says.

Action to improve the safety and wellbeing of young girls and all children and young people should be at the heart of the strategy and action plan of the Joint Venture: Eliminating Family Violence and Sexual Violence.

The Office of the Children’s’ Commissioner is recommending the national strategy put the needed time and resources into engaging with children and young people in an effective way and make them a focus of its vision.