More than 5,000 anonymous testimonies of sexual abuse at school have been shared online (Picture: Reuters)
Sexual assault is a widespread issue across both state and private education, say police as more than 100 schools were named on a website exposing ‘rape culture’.
Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore, who is Scotland Yard’s lead on rape and sexual offences, described such abuse by pupils as a ‘national issue’.
Her comments come after Met Police said it will investigate anonymous submissions of ‘misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault’ within schools and universities shared on the Everyone’s Invited website.
The site, set up by 22-year-old student Soma Sara, has been flooded with more than 5,000 testimonies of abuse from victims as young as nine.
Several high-profile private schools have come under fire by students after failing to deal with complaints of a ‘rape culture’, but police and Ms Sara said the issue goes further than fee-paying institutions.
DS Laremore told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it’s more widespread than private schools.
‘I think we’re still looking into the exact scope of how wide this is spread, but certainly I know there’s already over 100 schools cited on the website which do reach out to national parameters.
‘The private school element of this is a factor, in that certainly for us as the Metropolitan Police we have a safer schools officers and a safer schools network, we have identified ourselves that there isn’t a safer schools network within the private schools.’
DS Laremore said more than 100 schools have so far been named on the Everyone’s Invited website.
Students have pinned up posters around schools (Picture: Getty)
Officers have been making contact with the named schools to offer specialist support to potential victims, while a link is now available on the website to report crimes to Scotland Yard.
Ms Sara, who set up the site in a bid to expose the abuse within education, described it as a ‘global issue’.
She told the Observer: ‘I think it’s so important that we don’t narrow our focus to private schools, because it risks making these cases seem like they’re rare or anomalies, or that these patterns of abuse can only happen in certain places.
‘But no, they happen everywhere, all the time. And they can happen to anyone.’
Highgate School, a north London private school, announced it would be launching an independent review into the issues raised.
A school spokesperson said: ‘We are horrified and deeply shocked by the testimonies on ‘Everyone’s Invited’ and elsewhere.
‘The governing body have appointed The Rt Hon Dame Anne Rafferty to lead the independent review into the issues raised by the testimonies.’
Senior Tory MP Robert Halfon welcomed the Met’s investigation but said an inquiry should be launched to find out ‘what exactly has gone on, why it was allowed to take place and what the schools did to try and stop it.
The chair of the Education Select Committee wrote in the Telegraph: ‘What has been allegedly been going on in some of our country’s distinguished schools is appalling.
‘It seems almost as if a Lord of the Flies culture has engulfed respected private education institutions and spread to some state schools too.’
Pupils staged a protest against rape culture at Highgate School in London (Picture: Reuters)
‘Rather than marking their own safeguarding failures (as some schools are trying to do by appointing their own judge and jury), headteachers and governors should be held directly accountable,’ Mr Halfon continued.
He added that Ofsted should be responsible for safeguarding inspection of private schools and it must fund a national helpline so students can report incidents confidentially and get help.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are very concerned by the significant number of allegations recently posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The abuse of children and young people in all its forms is abhorrent.
‘The vast majority of schools, colleges and universities take their safeguarding responsibilities very seriously, so it is particularly shocking when allegations of abuse are made in connection with a place of education where everyone should feel secure and be protected.
‘Working together, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council are in contact with ‘Everyone’s Invited’ to provide support, protection and advice to those who are reporting abuse, including on contacting professionals or the police if they wish.’
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