One of the country’s most senior police officers has said he believes that schools have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations as a task force took charge of the surge in abuse complaints.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey told The Times that the outpouring of allegations was the education sector’s “MeToo” moment and that he feared a “culture of misogyny and sexual harassment” had not been challenged in some schools.
Bailey is the lead officer for Operation Hydrant, the national task force for child sexual abuse investigations in institutions. It will assess allegations of abuse in schools before they are given to individual forces to investigate, with a national hotline for abuse reports to be set up within 72 hours.
His comments come after thousands of anonymous testimonies of abuse in schools from students and alumni were shared on the Everyone’s Invited website. Police are working with the Department for Education, Home Office and Department of Health, and are prepared to investigate historical complaints as well as reports from witnesses to abuse on others.
Detectives will model their approach on the national football child abuse scandal, where police received more than 2,000 referrals involving more than 330 clubs. It resulted in the conviction of the former youth football coach Barry Bennell. Bailey, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection, said that he expected forces across the country to be involved.
“If somebody has been privy to rape or serious sexual assault then we want to hear from them,” he said. “What I fear is that there will be a number of sexual predators that will have moved from secondary school to university where they will continue to offend.”
Asked whether some schools had have covered up reports to protect their reputation, Bailey said he did not yet have evidence of that but added: “Am I naive enough to think that hasn’t happened? Of course I’m not. Do I think there will be circumstances where abuse will have been covered up to protect reputations? Yes I do.”
Magdalen, a leading private school for boys with a mixed sixth form, immediately contacted the Oxfordshire safeguarding team upon finding out about the allegations just over two weeks ago, Pike said.
“I was hoping that whoever it is [that had posted the testimonies] had spoken to us and was OK, it’s particularly challenging because they were anonymous and I was really worried that young people were taking to Instagram, when I would hope that they would seek professional support,” she told Today on BBC Radio 4 this morning.
“The influences of alcohol and pornography and expectations around what sex is are really challenging. Questions of consent for children are really challenging for us.”
Pike, the first female head of Magdalen, said she is “relieved” that Bailey does not have evidence that schools have covered up reports of abuse to protect their reputations.
She added that Magdalen tries to foster a culture of respect, boundaries and sensible decision-making in its pupils from the age of seven. In a virtual assembly this month she told pupils to ask their mothers and sisters about the sexual harassment they have suffered.
The Department for Education is prepared to close schools if they fail to meet safeguarding standards. A source in the department said: “If it becomes clear that there are current failings in any school’s safeguarding practice, we will immediately ask Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate to conduct an inspection. If a school is found to not be meeting the required safeguarding standard, we will make sure it either improves or closes.”
The focus has so far been on the private sector, but Bailey said that he expected to receive reports from state schools. “This goes right across the whole of the education section . . . and I think it is the next big national child sexual abuse scandal,” he said “It’s the ‘MeToo’ movement for schools. We are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”
Speaking to Today on BBC Radio 4, Bailey expanded on this. He said: “What I am anticipating is that as there is greater focus on this issue we will start to see reports of abuse, of current abuse, of non-recent abuse in the university sector, in the state sector, in the private sector as well. This is not something that is exclusive only to the private schools.
“The website has already received . . . over 7,000 testimonies. And those numbers are growing exponentially on Everyone’s Invited. So I think it’s reasonable to predict that there is going to be a significant number of reports that are going to come into the system.”
He said that victims would be believed when they came forward but that the police would then investigate without fear or favour.
Nearly 100 private schools and 75 state schools have been named on the Everyone’s Invited website, analysis of 1,000 testimonies by The Times found. There are significantly more submissions relating to private schools.
Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore, the Met’s lead for rape and sexual offences, said on Saturday that the issue was not limited to private schools.
Scotland Yard said it had reviewed the website and had received reports of offences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
Bailey warned that it was the responsibility of parents and guardians, as well as teachers, to ensure that young men and women understood what healthy relationships are.
“I think there is a culture that has to be challenged where young men are viewing pornography, are seeing the sexualisation of women and as a result of that healthy relationships are not truly understood,” he said.
“It has to be the responsibility of parents and guardians and teachers to ensure that young men and young women understand what healthy relationships are. We have got to start challenging this culture now.”
He said that schools were responsible for setting the right tone: “If sexual harassment and misogyny and sexual abuse are not tolerated, it can’t take root and it doesn’t then become part of the school’s culture. If the school does not challenge this behaviour then pupils know it is acceptable.”