'We will not be silenced': Highgate School pupils walk out after 'rape culture' allegations
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Female students led protests today after Highgate School was accused of covering up a “rape culture”.
Students from years 11, 12 and 13 walked out of class in protest at male pupils’ “vile and inhumane” actions, as they told the prestigious private school that it had “failed” the “survivors, not victims”.
The demonstration comes after Highgate School announced an independent investigation into a document of 220 testimonies – and rising – that details allegations of sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Highgate pupils or on Highgate property.
The school’s governing body said it was “truly sorry” and that it supported pupils standing against sexual abuse.
A number of speeches were held, including by six female pupils who stood on raised steps in the front courtyard before a group of students.
“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.
“We will not stand for this anymore and I am so grateful to be able to say... that you are strong and beautiful people who are shaping society for the better and not letting anything stand in your way.
“This is a time of anger and hate and we are being fuelled by this raw emotion to bring about justice for the survivors who went unnoticed. They are survivors, they are not victims.”
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Many students dressed in red to show solidarity with the “empowering girls faced with triggering, horrible memories”.
The pupils’ placards read: “We Stand Strong, We Stand Tall, and more importantly We Stand Together"; and "Sexual Violation is not Bullying, it is a Violation of Human Rights".
Pledging to “shut down misogynistic attitudes and disgusting comments”, pupils called on their peers to "stare in the eyes” of male students “who for a long time have been allowed to act in vile and inhumane ways”.
“I am sick and tired of being told I belong in the kitchen, that I am getting too emotional on this topic, that not all boys do it and that it’s a fuss over nothing,” 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.”
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.”
Cllr Liz Morris (Lib Dem, Highgate) said: "What these girls have gone through is horrific and I applaud their true bravery in speaking out.
"It is hard to fathom how the school’s staff missed so many opportunities to properly support these girls and deal appropriately with the perpetrators.
"Tragically we know from Everyone’s Invited that Highgate School is not an isolated case and that rape culture, and failure to address it, is not unique to London, but is a UK-wide issue."
Cllr Morris said a “whole new approach was needed” to “ensure that everything possible is being done to eradicate rape culture in our schools”.
A statement from the school’s governing body said: “We are deeply shocked and horrified by the allegations that have recently come to light through the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website.
“The Highgate they describe runs entirely contrary to the values of our whole community and we echo what our head, Adam Pettitt, has already said in apologising to any victim of sexual harassment or abuse who was not properly supported during their time at Highgate. We are truly sorry.”
The governing body said it had commissioned an external review of the allegations to “transparently scrutinise exactly what took place”.
They said they were committed to “taking whatever action is required to achieve the necessary culture change at Highgate”.
The statement continued: “We have reassured our parents and carers that safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school.
“We are encouraging all of our pupils, past and present, who wish to share their experiences, or to give feedback anonymously, to contribute to the review. Their voices will be heard.
“We also fully support and commend the actions of our pupils today, standing in solidarity with all victims of sexual harassment or abuse.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “We are aware of allegations as reported in the media and would encourage anyone who has been the victim of any offence to contact police.”
If you have been affected by sexual abuse at Highgate School and wish to speak to the Ham&High about this and how it may have been handled, contact us in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.