Pupils have AirDropped nudes to each other or used Google Drive to store non-consensually shared images, MPs were told.
In a Women and Equalities committee hearing on attitudes to girls and women in schools and other educational settings, Soma Sara, founder and chief executive of Everyone’s Invited (EI), a movement against sexual violence, said that in one reported case, pupils were “AirDropping nudes in a maths class to other students”.
AirDrop is a service that allows Apple users to wirelessly transfer photographs and videos between their devices, including iPhones.
And she said Google Drive, a cloud-based storage system, has been used to host “non-consensually shared images”.
It's just become so normalised that it's accepted as what happensSoma Sara
Pupils socialise at house parties and after school, she said, saying it is “very challenging” for teachers to “get a hold on behaviour that is happening outside of school and also on young people’s phones”.
Ms Sara said “the rise and the mainstreaming of hardcore pornography” and the ways in which young people conduct much of their lives online has led to new kinds of abuse emerging in recent years.
“A lot of young people I’ve spoken to, they don’t really understand that it’s wrong or understand the impact it’s actually having on them,” she said.
“It’s just become so normalised that it’s accepted as what happens.”
Ms Sara said when young people try to report harassment and abuse they are told to “shrug it off and move on”, which serves to “perpetuate that same cycle of abuse”.
Keziah Featherstone, headteacher at Q3 Academy Tipton in the West Midlands, said lockdown, with some children being “almost entirely online that time, mixing with people they don’t know, on servers that aren’t monitored, has been very frightening for everybody that works in schools”.
She said she saw “extreme attitudes and behaviours” from some younger pupils that her school had to work hard to change.
Ms Sara said the victims of both online and in-person misogyny and abuse are predominantly women and girls but can be men and boys too – with male sexual abuse more “stigmatised”.
Suzie McDonald, chief executive of charity Tender Arts & Education, said that because there is no “clear guidance for schools about how to manage these incidents”, teachers will try to support both the alleged perpetrator and victim and do not always hold boys accountable for abusive behaviour if police do not proceed with a criminal case.
Ms Featherstone said there should be a yearly safeguarding audit of schools, separate to Ofsted inspections, to investigate issues of harassment.
A Government spokesperson said: “Keeping children safe online is at the heart of our work to tackle sexual abuse and harassment of all kinds.
“Since the Ofsted Review, we have updated safeguarding guidance, including specifically on responding to incidents involving nude or semi-nude images, and we have provided new resources and training for teachers aimed at equipping them to deal with sensitive discussions with their pupils.
“The Online Safety Bill will strengthen protections for children online even further, helping to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.
“This will introduce a statutory duty of care on companies to take steps to protect their users from harm, including child sexual exploitation and abuse.”