Guidance for Schools/ Colleges in England on How to Respond to the Online Sexual Harassment of Staff

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This guidance refers to information published by the Department for Education and is therefore intended for school/college leaders, governors, federations, and trust leaders in England.

Online Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

A person (A) harasses another (B) if:

  • A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic; and
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of (i) violating B's dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

Online sexual harassment is unwanted sexual contact on a digital device which negatively impacts another person. This may also include indirect contact, such as fake accounts made in the likeness of an individual without directly contacting them. It can include an offline component; sometimes it starts offline and moves online, or the harassment escalates, and the person targeted begins to experience attacks offline as well. Online sexual harassment can be perpetrated by an individual, for example someone in a position of authority such as a headteacher, school/college leader, supervisor, or by a pupil, parent, partner or colleague.

It may involve groups of people such as parents, local community members, or the public. It may be obvious, implied or underhand. There may be no clear motive. Whatever form it takes, if schools/ colleges or colleges fail to take sufficient action to protect their staff from online sexual harassment or fail to provide appropriate support to them when an incident happens, they could be failing in their duty of care to their employees.