Children are tweets that we text into a time that we can barely touch. In Trinidad and Tobago, Section 30 (d) of the Children Act 2012, states that a person is in a position of trust in relation to a child if such a person is eighteen years and over and looks after a child who is in an educational setting. If such a person commits an offence while in a position of trust in relation to a child such a person is liable. Where the offence does not involve penetration the person is liable: (i) on summary conviction, to a fine of fifty thousand dollars and to imprisonment for fifteen years; or (ii) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for twenty-five years; or (d) where the offence involves penetration, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life.

Section 40 states that any person who knowingly— (b) publishes, distributes, transmits or shows any child pornography; (d) obtains access, through information and communication technologies child pornography; (e) has in his possession or control any child pornography; or (f) purchases, exchanges or otherwise receives any child pornography, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment, to a fine of thirty thousand dollars and to imprisonment for ten years.

Section 42 (2) states that where a national of Trinidad and Tobago does an act in another country, it would be as if the act was done in Trinidad and Tobago and would constitute an offence under this section. Such a person would be liable to face the penalty prescribed under subsection (1). Section 25 (1) deems a person who has communicated with a child in Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere, by any means, including the internet, for the purpose of sexual grooming to have committed an offence.

Helen Marshall, the CEO of ‘Brook’, a free young people’s sexual health and wellbeing charity in the UK, said that schools and universities are failing young people if students did not understand that the law protected them from unwanted sexual behaviour. At UK universities more than half of students said that they have experienced unwanted advances ranging from explicit messages to rape.

A January 2019 survey of 5,649 students, for ‘Brook’ and the student database Dig-In, found that few victims report such incidents. The survey found that 56% of respondents encountered unwelcomed sexual advances, inappropriate touching, catcalling, being followed, and being forced into sex acts.

Dr Anna Bull of the ‘1752 Group’ said that the study confirmed high levels of sexual harassment in Higher Education. One student reported that she was reluctant to appeal against the university’s investigation because the tribunal process was humiliating. Whenever she encounters her attacker she panics.

In response to a report by the Women and Equalities Committee of the Commons Select Committee of the UK Parliament in 2016, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) stated that, ‘Parents should be certain that when they send their child to school they are sending them to a safe and supportive environment where they will not be subjected to sexual harassment or violence.’ Select Committee Chair Maria Miller noted that the scale of the problem demanded a robust response from those who take responsibility for the safety of children at school. She noted that the government needed to ensure that sex and relationship education reflects the realities of the 21st century rather than, the pre-smartphone age.

The report concluded that 29% of 16 to 18-year-old girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school; 71% of all 16 to 18-year-old pupils had heard words like ‘slut’ aimed at girls in school; and that 59% of girls and young women aged from 13 to 21 had faced some form of sexual harassment at school. Miller clamoured to see more concrete ways to change a culture which would not find sexual harassment acceptable in the workplace but expects children to accept it in schools. Brains are biological. Minds are cultural. Minds are made within the social milieu. We therefore make the minds of our children. Allowing children to unfold naturally ensures that we will have fewer broken adults.

It is now clear that a patchy sex education syllabus is inadequate for the pernicious effect of sexualized misconduct. Rachel Krys, co-director of End Violence Against Women remarked that children are being exposed to hard-core porn on their smartphones and others are exposed to extreme levels of sexual harassment, the like of which have been eradicated in decent workspaces. More than one in three girls (37%) in mixed secondary schools told a survey they have been sexually harassed while at school and 24% have been subjected to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature. Sections 19 and 20 of the Children Act of Trinidad and Tobago makes sexual touching of a child a spectrum offence that can carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment depending on the harm inflicted.

The UK Select Committee urged Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate to act immediately and to assess schools on how well they are recording, monitoring, preventing and responding to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools are now expected to collect data on reports of sexual harassment and violence. The data is to be collated nationally and published annually and the police must record incidences of sexual harassment and violence in schools specifically.