Violence at schools based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or sex characteristics occurs everywhere in Europe and is acutely underreported. The efforts of the European education authorities to address the problem must be stepped up in order to create safe environment for children and prevent negative impact on students’ health and achievements. These are the key findings of the new report prepared by the Council of Europe in partnership with UNESCO that was published today.
Violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or sex characteristics (SOGIEC-based violence) is rooted in cultural norms and expectations about gender and gender roles. It can be psychological, physical or sexual, and occur in or around the schools, as well as online. According to the survey, verbal violence and bullying are its most prevalent forms.
“Any student who is perceived not to conform to prevailing norms – be it physical appearance, choice of clothing, manners, or emotional or physical attraction to others – may become its victim,” says Eleni Tsetsekou, the Head of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit of the Council of Europe. “Its key victims are LGBTI students, with transgender and gay male students reporting the highest levels of violence. However, it also targets non-LGBTI students and harms everyone involved – victims, perpetrators and bystanders.”
This type of violence affects mental and physical health of children, leading to depression, anxiety, efforts to conceal one’s identity, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts. Students who have become victims are likely to have lower motivation, poorer educational achievements, miss classes or drop out of school, and in the long term risk experiencing economic difficulties and be more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour.
The SOGIEC-based violence in education occurs everywhere, but is acutely underreported: in the United Kingdom, for instance, 45% of LGBT students bullied in the secondary school never tell anyone.
“The scale of the problem is much larger than official estimates suggest. This makes it even more urgent for the education sector authorities in Europe to devise comprehensive responses to the problem,” Tsetsekou said.
These responses must not be limited to national and school-level policies to prevent and address SOGIEC-based violence, but should also include curricula and learning materials supportive of diversity, training for educational staff, support for students, partnerships with civil society, as well as monitoring violence and evaluating responses.
Up to now, the report says, full comprehensive responses have been found in six member States of the Council of Europe: Belgium (regionally), Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Despite positive developments in the last decade, education sector responses to this type of violence in education sector are still lacking entirely in around ¼ of all Member States. The report offers recommendations to European states on how to ensure that all children can enjoy their right to education, in a safe environment.
The importance of this goal was underlined by Christophe Cornu, Senior project officer at UNESCO that partnered with the Council of Europe on the preparation of the report:
“UNESCO’s work in preventing and addressing homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings is part of its mandate to ensure that learning environments are safe and inclusive for all. This is crucial to our contribution to the achievement of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“This publication builds on the Out in the Open Report produced by UNESCO in 2016, which provided the first global overview of the nature, scope, and impact of, homophobic and transphobic violence in schools, and education sector responses. Our two organizations are proud to join forces to ensure no child or young person experiences discrimination or violence in school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.”
For more information, see this interview with Eleni Tsetsekou, the Head of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit of the Council of Europe.
Safe at school: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or sex characteristics in Europe
In the last decade, national education sectors in most Council of Europe member States started or continued responding to violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC-based violence). This report provides an overview of this violence in European schools, explores how member States seek to prevent or address it, and makes recommendations to national education sectors to better do so.
All children have the right to safe and quality education, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity/ expression or sex characteristics. Member States made binding commitments to this effect under international law since the 1960s. More political attention has turned to this issue recently:
In 2010, the landmark Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 from the Committee of Ministers to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity enjoined member States to “take appropriate legislative and other measures, addressed to educational staff and pupils, to ensure that the right to education can be effectively enjoyed without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity”.
In 2016, Resolution 2097(2016) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on “Access to school and education for all children” also called on member States to “ensure access by LGBTI children to quality education by promoting respect and inclusion of LGBTI persons and the dissemination of objective information about issues concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, and by introducing measures to address homophobic and transphobic bullying”.
In parallel, since 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published reports into LGBTI children and students’ ability to receive quality education in safe, non-violent and inclusive learning environments. In 2016, UNESCO published the landmark global report “Out in the Open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression”: the first global overview of SOGIESC-based violence in educational institutions.
Building on those developments, this report offers the first comprehensive synthesis of how education sectors respond to SOGIESC-based violence in Council of Europe member States.
THE NATURE AND IMPACT OF SOGIESC-BASED VIOLENCE
SOGIESC-based violence is a form of gender-based violence that targets those who are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). It can be psychological, physical or sexual, and can occur at school, around school, on the way to school or online. Bullying or cyberbullying motivated by victims’ perceived sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or sex characteristics can be particularly hurtful due to its repeated nature.
This violence negatively impacts the mental and physical health of those involved (victims, but perpetrators and bystanders too). It may result in higher levels of accumulated anxiety; stress; loneliness; lower self esteem; depression; as well as more frequent suicidal thoughts or attempts.
It also negatively impacts educational achievements: it may lead to lower motivation; lower participation in class or school activities; poorer academic results; and lower school attendance or dropping out of school.
Longer-term impact may also include lower academic knowledge; lower work qualifications; difficulties to form meaningful relationships; and a greater likelihood of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour.
KEY TRENDS IN EUROPE
SOGIESC-based violence occurs in all member States, regardless of the socio-economic, cultural or political context. Although these statistics aren’t directly comparable, 47% of LGBTI students report experiencing this violence in Belgium, 23–26% in the Netherlands, 43% in Slovenia, and 67% in Turkey.
LGBTI students consistently report higher rates of victimisation than their non-LGBTI peers. In Norway for example, 7% of heterosexual 10th-grade students reported being bullied two to three times monthly. This was the case twice as much (15%) for bisexual students, and five times as much (35%) for gay and lesbian students.
Verbal violence and bullying appear to be the most prevalent forms of violence. In Malta for example, 54% of young LGBTI respondents reported suffering psychological harassment during their schooling, whereas 13% reported experiencing physical violence.
Transgender students (regardless of their gender identity) and gay male students report the highest levels of SOGIESC-based violence (although gay and bisexual girls face added discrimination and violence based on their gender). In the United Kingdom for example, while 45% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students experience homophobic bullying at school, 64% of transgender students experience transphobic bullying.
SOGIESC-based violence also targets non-LGBTI students. In England for example, 61% of all students (including non-LGBTI students) responding to a large-scale study reported insults because they were LGBTQ, or because perpetrators thought they were.
Finally, SOGIESC-based violence is acutely under-reported. For example in the United Kingdom, 45% of LGBT students who are bullied in secondary school never tell anyone.
EDUCATION SECTOR RESPONSES TO SOGIESC-BASED VIOLENCE
Overall, the last decade saw a notable increase in education sectors’ acknowledgement and recognition of SOGIESC-based violence, including efforts to prevent and address it. However, these responses remain unsys- tematic where they exist, and vary greatly in their scope.
According to internationally-recognised principles summarised by UNESCO, effective education sector responses to school-based violence should be rights-based; learner-centred and inclusive; participatory; gender-responsive and transformative (i.e. they must promote gender equality, and take various gender identities and expressions into account); be evidence-based; age-appropriate and specific; and context-specific and culturally sensitive.