How the #MeToo movement in UK schools began - and where it could lead

Major investigation launched after outpouring of sexual harassment allegations in schools

Rape culture scandal placards
Placards outside James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London
(Image credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images )

Whitehall has launched a major investigation into the emerging “rape culture” scandal in UK schools.

Officials from the Home Office, Department for Education and Department of Health are working with senior police officers and Ofsted to look at the huge number of allegations, which one police chief has called the education sector’s “MeToo” moment.

How did it start?

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A website called Everyone’s Invited “started a revolution in our schools”, says the Evening Standard. It was set up last year by Soma Sara, 22, a sex abuse survivor, for past and present pupils to report claims of sexual harassment.

“Testimonials have skyrocketed since the female safety movement triggered by the Sarah Everard tragedy,” says the Standard. The number of anonymous testimonies currently stands at more than 8,000.

“The stories make for grim reading,” reports the newspaper. “Girls as young as 11 say they’ve been molested in front of cheering pupils in parks, coerced into having sex at parties and forced to send nude photos to older boys.”

While the accused are not named, the schools often are. Several high-profile fee-paying schools have faced accusations of failing to safeguard pupils who made allegations on the site.

Students at Highgate School in north London even staged a walkout last week and sent governors a “dossier” of more than 200 accounts of abuse from former and current pupils. The school’s governing body has apologised to any victims who were “not properly supported” and said it was “deeply shocked and horrified” by the allegations.

At another school in the capital, James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich, pupils tied placards and ribbons to the gates of the building to show support for the victims of sexual harassment.

Over the weekend, Everyone’s Invited founder Sara said it was “important that we don’t narrow our focus to private schools” as abuse can “happen everywhere, all the time”.

What next?

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, lead officer for Operation Hydrant, the national task force for child sexual abuse investigations in institutions, told The Times: “I think it is the next big national child sexual abuse scandal. It’s the ‘MeToo’ movement for schools. We are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

His task force will assess the claims and ensure they are investigated by local police forces. A national hotline for abuse reports is also expected to be set up within days. Police will “model their approach on the national football child abuse scandal”, which resulted in the conviction of former coach Barry Bennell, says The Times.

Schools that fail to meet safeguarding standards could even be closed down, a source at the education department told The Observer.

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