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Sexual abuse in schools

Pupils lift the lid on a “toxic culture”

Dulwich College, London. Getty Images

I’m amazed the “toxic culture of sexual abuse” in schools has taken this long to come out, says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. In recent weeks, more than 11,000 submissions to the website Everyone’s Invited have alleged sexual abuse, from verbal harassment to rape, at dozens of schools. Dulwich College and Latymer Upper School have reported pupils to police, a national helpline has been set up for victims and the government has launched a review. Online porn is surely “the root cause of the problem”. Today’s boys have grown up absorbing “messages of humiliation and debasement of women”, and it shows.

Top private schools, where the campaign started, also play a part, says teacher Will Yates in The Independent. Parents pay for these competitive hothouses so their sons become high-achieving and charismatic. But this can be “at the cost of humility and compassion”. At my old school, there was a sense that we could bat away “any emotion-filled accusation of sexism” with brute eloquence. If schools are serious about tackling this, “the usual cut and thrust of academic life” will have to change: “less time on Latin and more time on bias training”.

Actually, sexual abuse is commonplace across the education sector, says Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph. Entries on Everyone’s Invited concerning state schools have spiked in recent days. Homing in on private schools “in our usual class-obsessed British way” glosses over the wider problem. Privately educated schoolgirls with good support networks will find it easier to speak out than those less fortunate – but as the founder of #MeToo, Tarana Burke, says: “Sexual violence doesn’t discriminate.” Neither should we.

Alongside the most serious allegations on Everyone’s Invited are “lesser but repulsive charges” of drink-spiking, upskirt photography and “slut-shaming”, says Libby Purves in The Times. The “culture of laddish misogyny” from which these come is largely ignored. “Some male teachers even josh along with the lads about some fanciable image or crudery.” No one seems to have warned these boys that “their future world of work has grown astonishingly prim” – the “palest-blue joke” could “torpedo” a young man’s career. Cracking down on misogyny in schools is for boys’ sakes as much as anything. “It would give the girls some peace too.”