A call for action at James Allen’s Girls’ school in south London
But the woman who started Everyone’s Invited – where youngsters can share experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault anonymously – said the scandal was not isolated to seats of learning, and claimed “rape culture” was everywhere. The crisis prompted a chief constable to urge parents to shop sons they suspect of abuse. Simon Bailey, head of Norfolk Constabulary and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said: “If [they] are aware their son or daughter has been a victim of abuse then come forward.
“If you are aware your son has been responsible for a sexual assault then I think you should be taking [him] to the police and saying: ‘Look, I’ve now become aware that this is what my son has done’.
“I think there is a real issue for society. I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind about that.
“The ready and easy access to pornography is a driver to that, the sexualisation of women is a driver to that. In the minds of some people it is acceptable to treat young women in particular in a manner we are now seeing disclosed on the website.”
The deluge of stories came after allegations about several top independent schools, many of which are named on the site.
Soma Sara, founder of Everyone’s Invited, said: “Rape culture is endemic. It’s in all parts of society including all universities and all schools.
“Seeing this long-overdue discussion being narrowed down to private schools is disappointing.”
Bosses at private Highgate School in north London have begun an investigation
Soma said there had been a 33 percent increase in testimonies from the state education sector and a 44 percent rise in tales from universities since March 9.
Leading private schools in London including Dulwich College, King’s College School and Latymer Upper School have been the subject of allegations.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson called the claims of abuse “shocking and abhorrent”.
He added: “Any victim of these sickening acts that we’ve seen reported should raise their concerns with someone they trust, whether that’s a family member or friend, a teacher, social worker or the police. We will take appropriate action.
“No school – whether an independent or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place.”
Magdalen College School in Oxford – which has boys aged between seven and 18 plus girls in the sixth form – was also named on the website.
Helen Pike, its Master, said: “We heard [about the accounts] just over a fortnight ago and it was really upsetting. I was hoping whomever it is had spoken to us and was ok.
“I was worried young people were taking to Instagram when I would hope they would seek professional support, which includes from schools. “We have a duty of care to investigate, so we immediately contacted the Oxfordshire safeguarding team for their view, but the fact [the claims] are anonymous and undated does make this extremely challenging for us.
“The influences of alcohol and pornography and expectations around what sex is are really challenging.
“We spend a great deal of time in school educating pupils on consent right from junior school.
“We are really trying to foster a culture of respect, good boundaries and sensible decision making right from the age of seven.
“We are only ever as good as our information, so the Holy Grail here is getting lines of communication open, bridging the gap between what we say and what pupils hear.”
Ms Pike called on parents and schools “to work together to get an insight into what is going on in teen social media, particularly at gatherings when adults aren’t around”.
Girls have been subjected to sexual abuse at schools
She added: “We have seen an extraordinary response to the inquiry into sexual violence against women and from students to the [regulator] Ofqual grades consultation survey. We have got their attention so if we ask the right questions we may learn some answers to things that have been troubling us for some years.”
Bosses at private Highgate School in north London have begun an investigation.
A spokesman said staff were “deeply shocked by the testimonies on Everyone’s Invited and elsewhere”.
Former judge Dame Anne Rafferty will lead the review.
Writing in the Daily Express, Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, urged a wholesale review of safeguarding and more regular inspections from a single body, Ofsted.
The Government said it was “very concerned” by the allegations on the website.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want victims to have the confidence to report crimes and be comforted in knowing that everything will be done to bring offenders to justice.
“A police helpline will be set up in due course to ensure victims can access advice and support.”
Some girls say they were tricked into sending nude photos
Here are a few of the many thousands of testimonies posted to Everyone’s Invited – a huge number of them talking about abuse suffered when they were young girls at the hands of teachers and fellow pupils: “One time a male teacher asked me to roll down my skirt, but I was sitting down so he couldn’t have seen the true length of my skirt.
“Maybe not so extreme, and possibly innocent, but I remember feeling so violated, why are my legs a distraction for a grown man?”
There’s a boy at my school who everyone knows can be quite ‘touchy’. People shook it off as a personality trait but he continues to touch girls while they are under the influence of alcohol. People began to realise that this behaviour wasn’t normal and a girl came forward – the boy called her ‘bipolar’.”
“When I was in Year 7 aged 12, I was pressured to send nude pictures to a boy in my year. I had no idea this was even a thing, I felt disgusted doing it but felt like I had to. I later found out he was telling everyone I did it – I felt sick. This happened to me on many occasions throughout secondary school.”
“In year 10, I was drunk with my friends and received a message from a boy in my year asking me to send nudes. I didn’t want to, but felt like I had to. He screen-shot and stored it on his phone. He was showing it around in a class until my friend saw what was happening and made him delete it. I always felt this couldn’t classify as sexual harassment because it was through social media. This is happening in an unprecedented form.”
“When I was 13 I was on a high-school camping trip. We had just finished a raft-building exercise on the lake but I had lost my shoes and had to walk back barefoot.
“A male teacher said he would carry me so it didn’t hurt (I expected him to give me a piggy back). He threw me over his shoulder and as he walked would spank my bum a few times. I’d shout and he laughed and carried on. I was embarrassed but didn’t think anything of it back then.”
Comment by Soma Sara
We at Everyone’s Invited could not begin to have imagined the extraordinary impact the testimonies have had. We thank every brave survivor who has shared their story.
Much of the behaviour described is the product of a culture that normalises and trivialises such actions.
Growing up, we were socialised to believe that it was acceptable. Now everyone can understand the profound weight of everyone’s actions.
We know that our responsibility lies in healing the wounds we have uncovered. We do not condone or believe in cancel culture. We have taken crucial steps to ensure that everything is anonymised for this reason.
We urge our community to practise empathy. To reconcile is to understand and try to understand people’s experiences, thoughts and actions.
Reconciliation is not “forgive and forget” but “forgive and go forward”.
We are building on the mistakes of the past, creating a new future. To all who have spoken and listened, you’re courageous and we thank you.
• Soma Sara is from Everyone’s Invited
Comment by Robert Halfon
These revelations of so many pupils from distinguished schools are beyond awful.
The Government should set out measures to reassure these students that such abuse will be stopped once and for all.
There needs to be a wholesale review of safeguarding with more regular inspections. Just one body should be responsible.
The helpline established by the police must become permanent and schools themselves should provide funding for wellbeing and mental health counselling for past and present victims. An independent inquiry must also be established with head teachers and governors held accountable.
The suffering raises deeper issues. What are the reasons that some boys arrive at school and fail to treat female pupils with dignity and respect?
If the experiences of students are not to happen to their successors, our society and schools need to make fundamental change. Sweeping these safeguarding failures under the carpet as too difficult to deal with is not an option
• Robert Halfon is on the Education Select Committee