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Calls for ‘swift and decisive action’ over complaints of sexual abuse in schools

Written by on 31 March 2021

Ministers are facing calls to take “swift and decisive action” on allegations of sexual abuse in schools.

Labour is demanding an independent inquiry after more than 10,000 reports were posted on a website where students can anonymously share their experiences.

The accounts of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault were shared on the website Everyone’s Invited.

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Campaigner highlights harassment in schools

Soma Sara, the website’s founder, has claimed a “rape culture” is “endemic” within the education system.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has described the claims as “shocking and abhorrent”.

“Any victim of these sickening acts that we’ve seen reported, should raise their concerns with someone they trust, whether that’s a family member or friend, a teacher, social worker, or the police,” he said.

Mr Williamson warned abusers: “We will take appropriate action,” and added: “No school – whether an independent school or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green and shadow domestic violence and safeguarding minister Jess Phillips have written to Mr Williamson about the issue.

The pair say the government should formulate a national strategy to tackle abuse.

Everyone's Invited website - testimonies uploaded to the site have prompted multiple police reports of abuse. Pic: Everyone's Invited Image: The Everyone’s Invited website – testimonies uploaded there have prompted multiple police reports of abuse

“Swift and decisive action is needed to make sure that the education system is safe for every young person, and that sexist or misogynistic attitudes towards women and girls are stamped out early,” they said.

Ms Green said: “It is extremely concerning to see these reports of sexual harassment and abuse across the education system.

“Ministers have let young people down with their dangerous and irresponsible resistance to calls for a strategy to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in the education system.”

Ms Phillips added: “The government have known the scale of sexual harassment and abuse in schools, colleges and universities for years and have done nowhere near enough to tackle this endemic problem.

“Every student is entitled to an education free from the threat of sexual violence or harassment.”

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, backed calls for an inquiry.

“We need an independent inquiry into what has gone on at these schools and why it’s gone on and whether or not an overhaul of safeguarding procedures are needed,” he told Sky News.

Mr Halfon said a permanent helpline should be set up to allow children and young people to report abuse and get advice, while he called for schools to provide mental health counsellors for pupils affected.

A survey suggests that the majority of girls and young women have experienced harassment at school, university or college.

The poll from Plan International UK found that 19% had been catcalled or “wolf whistled”, while 12% had been followed and 10% reported being grabbed.

Only 39% of the more than 1,000 girls aged 14 to 21 spoken to for the survey had not experienced any harassment in their learning environment.

The Children’s Society, meanwhile, has said the government should launch a drive to educate school staff, parents, pupils and support services to better recognise and tackle harassment and abuse.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson during a media briefing in Downing Street Image: The education secretary has labelled recent claims of sexual abuse in schools ‘shocking and abhorrent’

Barnardo’s is calling for existing guidance to be reviewed.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Ms Sora said: “To see this conversation happening on a national stage is incredible.

“We should be prioritising survivors… making sure we are putting them first, listening to them, making sure they are supported and being as empathetic as possible.

“It’s about changing behaviour and changing perceptions….It needs to be a cultural change, because it is a cultural problem.

“I do believe rape culture is everywhere. It exists in all schools, all universities and all of society.”

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