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2 April 2021 | Comment | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Abuse in education and ‘rape culture’

We recently discussed abuse in schools, specifically public boarding schools. We looked at how cases of sexual and physical abuse were still coming to light against teachers or staff despite more stringent safeguarding measures being introduced. We discussed liability and actions available to victims.

However, in the last few weeks more and more reports have started to surface regarding abuse of pupils by other pupils in schools, in what has concerningly become dubbed ‘the rape culture’.

Westminster School hit the headlines when ex pupils compiled a 21 page dossier of rape culture claims. The claims document how female pupils were harassed and abused on a daily basis, having been forced to perform sex acts on male pupils. Further allegations included teachers buying a sex toy for a pupil. A number of other disturbing allegations included projecting images of female pupils on the whiteboard and asking teachers if they would “smash or not”.

Victims disclosed how alcohol was used to intoxicate students by other students to enable them to rape them. Other allegations including having trousers pulled down in front of others, groping, harassment and rape. Younger pupils were deemed “fresh meat” by older pupils and sixth formers.

Highgate School has commissioned an immediate external review after a number of pupils walked out of the school, after allegations that the rape culture was tolerated by staff. The school has been criticised for not investigating or acting on allegations of abuse.

Dulwich school pupils planned a protest march which was cancelled due to the current COVID-19 pandemic following a report in The Times of over 100 accounts of sexual abuse at the school.

A number of other schools have also been linked to similar allegations including St Pauls; Eton; and Latymer Upper School. Many of the named schools have now commenced internal investigations.

England’s children commissioner, Rachel de Souza, has now stated that serious claims of sexual violence and harassment in schools must be reported to police in a response. Ofsted have also confirmed they will look to investigate. Maybe if mandatory reporting was in place such a call would not be necessary?

An online campaign called 'Everyone's Invited' has now also been set up to encourage users to post anonymous testimonies of the abuse they have suffered at school.

All schools are expected to have sufficient safeguarding procedures to prevent abuse. If a school employee (such as a teacher) has committed abuse, it is possible to make a civil claim against the individual’s employer on the basis of vicarious liability if it can be established that the abuse occurred during the course of employment or in a relationship akin to employment.

When abuse is committed by another pupil this becomes more complicated, especially if they are also a minor. Whether a successful claim could be brought against the school would depend on the facts of the individual case. If the school had been informed of complaints of ongoing sexual abuse/or witnessed this and failed to step in/prevent such, the school in question may be deemed liable in a civil claim.

The following organisations are available to contact for support:

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins or Danielle Vincent.

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Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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