Last month, the Everyone’s Invited campaign sent shockwaves throughout the British school system. Since its launch on the 8th of March, over 16,000 anonymous testimonies of sexual assault and harassment have been submitted, many of which accuse top independent schools such as Dulwich College, Latymer Upper School and Westminster School of harbouring an insidious rape culture.
However, the allegations are not just limited to private schools, and it is clear that this is a nationwide problem. According to the charity End Violence Against Women, 59% of 13-21 year old women say they experienced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the last year; a third of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school; and between 2012 and 2015, 600 rapes in schools were reported to police – an average of one rape every day of the school year.
There has been much debate in schools, government and the media about the best way to move forward in light of these allegations. The government has recently made Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory for all schools, but the disruption to learning due to COVID means that many schools will have yet to teach this properly.
There will also inevitably be a time-lag for this new curriculum – which has a much greater focus on the ‘social’ side of sex, for example what healthy relationships and consent looks like – to have an effect on pupils. In the meantime, different organisations have taken different approaches to tackling these issues, but with a common goal: making schools safer for pupils.
How have schools responded?
Most schools have addressed the Everyone’s Invited allegations either through assemblies, letters to parents, statements to local media or social media.
Some school leaders have been more public and vocal with their response than others. Helen Pike, Master of Magdalen College School, wrote a piece for The Guardian in which she argued that this is an “extraordinary opportunity to talk to boys about consent and respect” and that the way to “address these issues is to talk about [them] repeatedly to each year group.”
Jane Lunnon, Head of Alleyn’s School in Dulwich, is currently developing an “Equality Charter” with pupils, staff and alumni to “codify what gender equality, kindness and respect looks like in the daily life of our School” and many other schools, including Winchester College, are reviewing the content of their Sex Education lessons.
Dulwich College has taken a more hardline approach, becoming the first school to report its own pupils to the police. The college was one of the schools whose reputation was most affected by the scandal; a dossier of 250 testimonies from female pupils alleged sexual abuse and assault by Dulwich boys, and in an open letter Samuel Schulenburg, a former Dulwich student, called the school “a breeding ground for sexual predators”.
Universities have also recently updated their policies around how they respond to sexual misconduct incidents after more than 80 universities were cited in the Everyone’s Invited testimonials. A number of the UK’s top institutions, including Exeter and Oxford, were mentioned over 50 times.
The Office for Students has subsequently published new guidance on what systems universities must have in place for students who raise concerns, and Vice-Chancellors have been told that they must give staff adequate and effective training to prevent sexual harassment as well as raise awareness about it.
This will vary slightly from institution to institution, but according to the OfS, all universities should:
- Have processes in place to allow students to report and disclose any incidents ,
- Work to minimise potential barriers to reporting and disclosing ,
- Ensure investigatory procedures are fair and independent, and that those involved get effective pastoral support,
- Set out behavioural expectations for all students, staff and visitors, and
- Make codes of conduct clear to all new staff and students.
The British Government has also taken various measures to respond to the claims. Firstly, the Education Secretary has commissioned a review that will look at sexual violence, assault and rape allegations in schools and colleges. Secondly, Ofsted inspectors will carry out checks on schools in England that have been subject to recent complaints. In particular, inspectors will discuss with school leaders to see if proper protection processes are in place, how well the guidance is understood, and how effectively the school responds to complaints.
The government has also collaborated with the NSPCC to launch a dedicated helpline for victims of sexual abuse to provide support and guidance. This is not just limited to school pupils, but will offer support to:
- All children and young people making current and non-recent disclosures,
- All children and young people who want to talk about being involved or witnessing any incidents,
- Any adults who may have experienced non-recent abuse,
- Carers and parents who have concerns about children, and
- Professionals who work in schools
The dedicated NSPCC Helpline – Report Abuse in Education – launched on the 1st of April and can be contacted by calling 0800 136 663, or by emailing [email protected].
The role of parents
Many parents have also been wondering what more they can do and how they can navigate potentially difficult or sensitive conversations with their children. Soma Sara, the founder of Everyone’s Invited, has repeatedly spoken about how parents should talk to their children about the dangers of online pornography. The Times offer guides on what parents need to talk about with their sons in 2021 and how to talk about sex with your children, although these are behind a paywall.
In terms of free resources, the NHS has created this infographic on how to talk about sex with your child, and this article by Everyday Health is very good at remembering that conversations about sex should not just revolve around pregnancy and STIs but around relationships. Planned Parenthood and the RSE Hub have lots of resources tailored for different ages, and the NSPCC has a page on how to talk about healthy relationships.
Overall, it is clear that the impact of Everyone’s Invited is far from over yet. Whilst policy change will take time, these measures are a step in the right direction, and have opened up a conversation that all parents should be having with their children and with schools.
About the author: Kristina Murkett is a teacher and a freelance writer specialising in education, film, literature and women’s rights.
If you enjoyed this article you might like to read Questions to ask when visiting a school: sex education.