'Tip of the iceberg': Warning after Highgate School 'rape culture' reports
- Credit: Polly Hancock
A children’s charity has warned that rising reports of sexual abuse from pupils is “just the tip of the iceberg” – after Highgate School was accused of covering up a “rape culture”.
The chief executive of Barnardo's said he is “deeply concerned” after more than 240 testimonies of sexual abuse were alleged by Highgate School pupils, past and present.
The accounts are among more than 10,000 reports posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where students can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
Last Thursday (March 25), Highgate students walked out of class in protest at male pupils’ “vile and inhumane” actions, as they told the school it had “failed” the “survivors, not victims”.
“These boys have now realised that they no longer have anywhere to hide and they will never have anywhere to hide again. We will not stand for this anymore,” one pupil said.
“Boys may make mistakes due to hormones, as I was told yesterday, but us girls don’t deserve to have our human rights violated just because these boys cannot control themselves.”
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The student said that male violence “must be eradicated once and for all”, adding: “I think we have all shown at Highgate School, as a community, the pupils standing in front of me today, we will not be silenced anymore.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called the national reports of sexual abuse “shocking and abhorrent”.
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The government is facing calls to launch an inquiry into the scandal, including from the Labour Party and Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee.
The children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, warned that “many children are harassed from a young age” – including on their way to school, in the classroom or on the playground.
A survey from the charity Plan International UK suggests that the majority of girls and young women have experienced behaviours associated with harassment while at school, university or college.
The poll, of more than 1,000 girls aged 14 to 21, found that only 39% of respondents said they had not experienced any harassment behaviours.
A spokesperson for the Survivors Trust, which supports victims of sexual abuse, said: "The experiences of sexual abuse, rape and sexual harassment shared by students at Highgate School, and schools across the UK is deeply concerning.
"We welcome Highgate School’s independent review into pupils’ allegations of sexual abuse. However, it is clear the issue is far-reaching and is not just confined to one school. Once again, we are seeing the stark reality of how rape culture infiltrates our society.
“Worryingly, we are yet again hearing survivors’ experiences of victim-blaming and lack of support from people in positions of power.
"We need to significantly change the way we approach issues around sex, relationships and consent.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “I’m deeply concerned at recent reports of sexual abuse and harassment against school pupils.
“The testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website shed new light on these traumatic experiences – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West urged any Highgate pupils who have been victim of sexual abuse to come forward and seek support.
After a review of the testimonies on Everyone’s Invited, the Metropolitan Police said it was now investigating a number of offences.
The Met’s lead for rape and sexual offences, Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore, said: “We understand the complex and varied reasons why many victim-survivors do not contact law enforcement, but I want to personally reassure anyone who needs our help that we are absolutely here for you.”
A spokesperson for Highgate School said that it treated any allegation of sexual assault and rape “with the utmost seriousness”.
“Where allegations are made we follow safeguarding guidance, support the pupil and make referrals to the relevant authorities including the Police and the Local Authority MASH,” the spokesperson said.
“We are committed to an external, independent review, as announced last week.”
Anyone with information about an offence which may have been committed should contact police on 101, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
For more information on where to get support if you are victim of sexual assault, visit https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/help-after-rape-and-sexual-assault/