School Abuse: Has ‘Rape Culture’ become Normalised?

Author:
Nathalie Swanwick
Abuse Claims Solicitor
Date:
13/04/2021

Over 14,000 victims of abuse across the UK have come forward about the abuse they suffered in schools and universities on an anonymous testimonial website.

Soma Sara founded the Everyone’s Invited website back in June, in a ‘movement committed to eradicating rape culture’. The testimonies include allegations of misogyny, harassment, abuse, rape and assault against victims as young as nine.

Most of the reports are from young women about young men at the same school or university social group, and over 100 schools have been named, including prestigious private schools such as Highgate School, Westminster School and Dulwich College.

No one should feel unsafe at school or college, but these shocking testimonies show that this is the case for many children and young adults in the UK.

It’s important that the victims came forward about their abuse, but the fact that thousands of young people felt an anonymous website was the only way to speak up is not only devastating but also marks the need for change.

If you’d like support or legal advice about sexual abuse or harassment in school, or you’re a victim of historic institutional abuse and you’d like to know about making a claim for abuse, get in touch with our Abuse Solicitors for a confidential chat.

Call us on 08002605010 or request a callback and we will help you.

What are the Allegations?

The testimonials come from both current and former pupils and students across the UK, and include allegations ranging from intimate photographs being shared without consent, to harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Many of the victims talk about how they tried to report their abuse to their school, only for no action to be taken.

As the number of testimonials continues to grow day by day, it’s heartbreaking to see just how widespread rape culture has become.

Founder Soma Sara told the BBC, “These are stories of rape culture - so where behaviour that's not normal is normalised. Rape culture is a universal problem - it's everywhere, in all schools, all universities and all of society.”

What is Rape Culture?

Rape culture is when violent sexual behaviour is accepted, normalised and even encouraged in society through our attitudes, structures and behaviours.

This can be anything from a casual portrayal of sexual behaviour in the media, to jokes about sexual violence in stand-up comedy, to objectifying and rating women’s bodies.

All of these seemingly harmless behaviours create a culture where rape and sexual violence is not only trivialised but actually accepted, making it harder for victims to be taken seriously when coming forward to report abuse or harassment.

Lack of Support and Reporting

Several students said they’d reported their abuse to their school or to the police but sadly the majority of incidents have gone unreported.

So why haven’t more victims spoken up before now? As we’ve found during our years working with child abuse victims, it’s not unusual for them to wait years before speaking out.

This can be for a number of reasons, including:

  • Fear of not being believed or listened to
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about what happened to them
  • Fear of what other people may think, such as other pupils, teachers or parents
  • Believing the experience wasn’t severe enough to be taken seriously
  • Not understanding the full nature of what’s happened to them

Many of the victims on Everyone’s Invited have talked about their schools ignoring their allegations in an attempt to protect the school’s reputation and the future of the students accused. Others said the legitimacy of their testimony was questioned because alcohol had been involved.

Solicitor Nathalie Swanwick, who deals with physical and sexual abuse claims says “I have represented many survivors in the Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse, which was set up to investigate the failings of organisations to protect children from sexual abuse. It’s devastating to read these testimonials, showing just how widespread sexual abuse and harassment in schools is and continues to be.”

“What’s more concerning is hearing about victims of abuse not getting the support they need after bravely coming forward to their school. It’s stories like these that show why victims can be reluctant to come forward.”

“Please know that there is support out there if you’ve been affected by abuse or harassment, so please don’t suffer in silence. I am ready to listen. ”

What Action is being Taken?

The Government has announced an immediate review of sexual abuse in schools, asking Ofsted to review safeguarding policies in both state and private schools.

This includes:

  • Making sure schools have processes in places for pupils to comfortably report their concerns
  • Launching a new helpline with the NSPCC to support victims in educational settings
  • Making sure schools are given enough guidance on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment allegations
  • Looking at the current regimes in schools for addressing any concerns for the welfare of children

Some of the schools named, including Highgate School are also carrying out their own reviews of the allegations and working on anti-sexism plans.

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