A protest by students of private schools was cancelled last week after the head of Dulwich College warned students they could be fined by police for attending. The march invited pupils from various private schools to ‘a demonstration against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [which] condones it’.
It comes after an online campaign called for testimonies of sexual assault and harassment at schools and universities. Everyone’s Invited, the website that hosts the campaign, have collected near 6,000 testimonies from girls as young as nine. Writing personal accounts of rape culture, a number of academic institutions have been named including Dulwich College, Eton, St Pauls and Latymer Upper School – which are all private schools. Testimonies from those attending state schools and universities are also included.
The Sunday Times has since published a letter, written by 19-year-old Samuel Schulenburg, that included around 250 anonymous stories from girls who went to James Allen’s Girls School (JAGS) levied at Dulwich College, the neighbouring boys' school. Testimonies include allegations of assault, revenge porn and sexual violence – with one branding the school ‘a breeding ground for sexual predators.' JAGS have since responded.
‘The testimonies of alleged social and sexual misconduct are harrowing to read and we admire the courage of those who have come forward,' a spokesperson for JAGS said in a statement. 'The incidents highlighted are entirely unacceptable and JAGS condemns unreservedly the behaviours described. The safeguarding of our pupils is our absolute priority and JAGS takes allegations of this nature extremely seriously.
‘We are listening carefully to our pupils, alumnae and parents. We will act upon any matters brought to our attention, offering full and unequivocal support to those students who come forward, and reporting to the relevant external authorities where appropriate.
‘We have been in close contact with Dulwich College. We are committed to supporting our students and staff in challenging unacceptable behaviour and to addressing issues around the treatment of women in society as a whole.’
Other private schools including Westminster, Kings College and Highgate School, have also received accusations of sexual violence. The London Oratory, a non-fee paying state academy school, has too.
A former pupil of Benenden, a private girls’ school in Kent, has also put together a dossier of allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and rape culture at top private schools. Zan Moon, 24, sent the testimonies of 95 people to head teachers of schools including Eton, Tonbridge and Charterhouse after hearing from other women about the abuse they had suffered.
Tonbridge School has been getting more attention in the last week, as a breakout search term on Google Trends. James Priory, the headmaster of Tonbridge School, told The Times 'We are already taking action, including having organised an extra series of talks with pupils.'
Last week, the BBC reported that they had seen a dossier of allegations by more than 200 current and former pupils at Highgate School.
HIGHGATE school's governing body told the BBC they were ‘deeply shocked and horrified by the allegations that have recently come to light’ and apologised ‘to any victim of sexual harassment or abuse who was not properly supported…The governing body has commissioned an immediate external review of the allegations led by a team of professionals with expertise in this field.’
With so many allegations across so many schools, pupils are planning protests in response to the obvious endemic of violence against girls and women in academic settings. At Highgate School, pupils from years 11, 12 and 13 walked out of school during lunchtime yesterday in order to show ‘solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse and harassment’. In response, the school stated that they ‘fully support and commend the actions of our pupils today’.
Today’s march intended to see pupils from numerous schools condemn Dulwich College, which a number of their students expressed interest in attending. In an email sent to parents yesterday, Dr Joe Spence, the head of the £21,246-a-year independent school, said he had warned pupils they would be fined by the police for breaching lockdown restrictions in attending the march.
‘I made clear [to the children that I] understood that a number of Dulwich pupils wished to express their support for the cause of gender equality and to show solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and harassment,’ he wrote. ‘However, I encouraged them to play their part in addressing these issues by engaging in dialogue with the college leadership team here and through local schools rather than by participating in a protest likely to bring on to the campus and the streets around the college pupils from other schools over whom we have no jurisdiction, with all the health, safety and public order risks that such an event would bring.’
Some Dulwich College pupils have been reported to the police.
In a separate message to parents earlier this week, Spence told parents he had reported some Dulwich students to the police after the allegations were made against the all-boys school.
Rachel de Souza, England's children’s commissioner, has released a statement following the testimonies on Everyone’s Invited.
‘It’s really distressing, and we get lots of testimony like this,’ she said. ‘There is very clear advice on sexual violence and harassment [for schools]. When it is serious it must be escalated to both social care and to the police, and schools need to follow that.’
Unlike state schools, private schools are not subject to Ofsted inspections and are instead inspected by the government’s Department for Education. On the government website, it states that ‘All private schools must be registered with the government and are inspected regularly. The Department for Education through the Secretary of State acts as the regulator for the independent schools in England. The department registers independent schools, sets independent school standards (ISS)1 that those schools must meet, commissions inspections against those standards, and acts where schools fail to meet the standards.’
The DfE has ‘the power to take enforcement action…where a school has had an opportunity to improve’ in areas including the welfare, health and safety of pupils. Therefore, it’s up to the government to step in to ensure standards around female pupils safety are being met.
What is Everyone’s Invited?
Everyone’s Invited is a website where survivors of sexual harassment and violence can share their stories. It was founded by Soma Sara in June 2020 after she began sharing her personal experiences of rape culture on Instagram.
‘Immediately, she received a number of messages from not only those who felt that her experiences strongly resonated with their own, but also those who detailed their own stories of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault,’ the website states. ‘Within a week she received and shared over 300 anonymous responses, reaching over 10,000 people. These stories provide a vital education on the complex and pervasive reality of rape culture.’
The website is not strictly to expose sexual violence in academic settings, however it became the platform of choice for thousands of pupils when it invited users to post anonymous testimonies.
‘The testimonies expose rape culture and the scale of sexual violence amongst young people in the UK,’ Soma Sara told the BBC. ‘If we start pointing fingers at certain demographics or singling out individuals or institutions, we risk making these cases seem like anomalies... when really this problem is pervasive, it exists everywhere… It is so important that teachers and parents are able to learn how to communicate with their children and talk about these issues.’
According to the BBC, the high master of St Paul’s, Sally-Anne Huang, has informed children’s services of the platform, notably the Everyone’s Invited Instagram account which now has over 33,000 followers.
‘The school completely condemns the actions described, and takes this matter extremely seriously,’ Huang said in a letter to alumni. ‘[We] would always investigate fully matters of this nature brought to our attention.’
Since none of the allegations against pupils at St Pauls included names, she added that she has not reported any to the police.