Founded by student Somo Sara in June 2020, website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ has sparked an overdue conversation about sexual misconduct in education. Published to a community of over 41,200 individuals, of whom 13,500 have shared their stories, these harrowing testimonies named over 100 schools before they were censored last Monday. Reports have been made by both young men and women detailing the sexual harassment and abuse they have suffered whilst in state, private or university education. In the wake of these allegations, ‘Everyone’s Invited’ believes their responsibility lies with “improving and healing the wounds [they] have uncovered” and has adopted the notion of “forgive and go forward”, but many are calling for more widespread change.
The Department of Education has since commissioned the NSPCC to create a new helpline – ‘Report Abuse in Education’ – and have asked Ofsted to undertake an immediate review of safeguarding policies in schools. But can we truly say that resources like these, and improved education, will be enough to combat this sexual misconduct pandemic? Young men and women must first be able to trust that staff and authorities with whom they confide will practice empathy and take their allegations seriously. More must still be done.
Rape culture exists where attitudes and mannerisms trivialise sexual misconduct, something which Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore of New Scotland Yard claims is rife in both state and independent schools. One could not agree with this observation more. Too often incidents and attitudes are isolated to specific communities or institutions yet, by doing this, we face labelling these cases as rare. They are most definitely not.
Speaking to the Observer, Sara rightly stated that sexual misconduct is a universal problem and a global issue, it “happens everywhere, all the time and … can happen to anyone”. Insufficient sexual education has irrefutably fostered rape culture within education, yet it is the lack of sincerity and actions of staff which have allowed this to become an epidemic on a global scale. Where toxic behaviours are not regulated, they are encouraged. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ex-Ofsted Chief Inspector, comments on just this, stating; “often schools try and sweep these things of a sexual nature under the carpet and hope it goes away. It never goes away in my experience. It just gets worse”. Everyone’s Invited has sparked a conversation about sexual misconduct in education and we must continue to encourage victims to speak out, knowing action will be taken against their attackers. Improving sexual education and the resources available is simply not enough; teachers must not be allowed to encourage the silencing of victims out of fear for their reputations.
Ofsted’s review is due to conclude by the end of May 2021 and will seek to establish where safeguarding arrangements and processes are good and have worked well, and where improvements are needed. One can hope that this report will address not only the changes which must be made to the curriculum but also the attitudes of staff and those in positions of authority. Students in state, private and university education must feel safe and encouraged to report any incidents of abuse or harassment, confident that the allegations they raise will be acted upon. Everyone’s invitation has sparked an overdue conversation, further action must now be taken.
Young people and adults may contact the NSPCC helpline – ‘Report Abuse in Education’ – on 0800 136 663 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.