The first dom who abused me (the first dom I had, who groomed me at 16) was a well respected member of the BDSM community. Locally, and across the state. Other members of the community – most who knew I was a minor – told me he was a good guy, a good dom, an exemplar of BDSM ‘values’. He was renowned across the state of New York.
When he was tired of abusing me, he gifted me to other upstanding members of the BDSM community.
When I moved, I was given to a dom of the BDSM community in my new state.
Don’t let them hide behind the idea of community; the idea that the community polices itself and protects subs. Just like the real cops, they only protect the abusive assholes.
They knew. They all knew. They knew when a dom violated safe words. They knew when he hurt a sub. They knew when he pushed past a sub’s limits. They knew about the grooming. They knew about the abuse. They knew about the rape. The community fucking knew. They just didn’t care.
In the end, Valérie Bacot could take it no longer. For almost four decades, her husband, Daniel Polette, had been a malign presence that dominated her life: he molested her when she was 12, made her pregnant at 17 and then trapped her in an abusive relationship, during which she bore him three more children.
Now in the ultimate humiliation, he was pimping her out for sex in the back of their battered Peugeot people-carrier in the woods near their home in Saône-et-Loire, in central France, getting his kicks from watching through a chink in the curtain in its rear window.
In March 2016, after an encounter with a particularly brutal client, Bacot claims to have grabbed the loaded pistol that Polette kept next to the driver’s seat and, closing her eyes, shot him.
Daniel Polette first began to show an unhealthy interest in Bacot when she was a young child
“There was a loud noise; the flash, the smell,” she said in an interview with Le Parisien last week. “I got out of the car, opened the door, he fell. I thought only of saving myself because I was sure he was going to kill me.”
But he was dead. When Bacot told her elder children she had killed their father, they hugged her. Two of her sons, together with her daughter’s boyfriend, then helped her bury his remains in the forest. “I packed the earth down like crazy with my hands. I was too afraid he would come out to kill us,” she recalled.
Next month Bacot, 40, goes on trial for murder in a case that has turned a spotlight on conjugal violence in France — and on the few victims who dare to fight back.
By this weekend more than 384,000 people had signed a petition demanding Bacot’s freedom. A television interview with her drew an audience of 4.5 million and a book in which she tells her life story went to the top of the bestseller list after its release last week.
“I was struck by Valérie’s strength, her courage and her intelligence. I really wanted to help her to tell this story,” said Clémence de Blasi, a journalist who ghostwrote the book, Tout le monde savait (Everyone Knew), having met Bacot after her release in October 2018 pending her trial.
In talking to Bacot’s children and others around her, de Blasi realised what a powerful hold Polette had over his wife. “He was watching her permanently, day and night,” she told me. “He was someone who was extremely dangerous and ready to do anything.”
It was Bacot’s mother who first brought Polette into her daughter’s life. After breaking up with her husband, she had a series of casual relationships before meeting the lorry driver in 1992 and inviting him to live in their home in the village of La Clayette, 60 miles north of Lyons.
Polette soon began to show an unhealthy interest in the young girl, who had just turned 12, going into the bathroom while she was washing and insisting on rubbing her with cream. Bacot’s mother tried to keep his activities quiet but word eventually reached the local authorities, and in 1995 Polette was arrested and convicted of sex offences against a minor.
Bizarrely, however, on his release after 33 months in jail, he was allowed to return to the home in La Clayette and was soon abusing Bacot again and raping her. After she became pregnant in 1998, she moved with him into a little house in Baudemont, a neighbouring village of a few hundred people, where, despite an age difference of 25 years, they lived as a couple for two decades, marrying in 2008.
According to Bacot’s account, it was anything but marital bliss: he frequently beat her, on one occasion breaking her nose and on another holding an unloaded pistol against her temple and pulling the trigger. “The next time there will be a bullet for you and for each of the children,” he told her.
Bacot thought of denouncing him to police but was fearful of how he would retaliate and did not dare to go herself. Instead she sent her children, but the police refused to listen to their claims and sent them away.
In the meantime, he had forced her into prostitution, initially only at weekends but then, after he gave up his job, almost full-time. To get clients, he made her distribute flyers in the local area. Once their daughter was 14, Bacot feared he would force the girl to sell her body too.
With no money and no friends or family to turn to, Bacot felt she had no alternative but to stay with her tormentor — until the day she shot him.
At first the family pretended he had gone away. But Bacot was eventually denounced to the police, apparently by the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend. At 6am one day in October 2017, the police came for her; she knew she was going to be arrested and for days had been sleeping in her clothes.
Bacot’s experiences show in an extreme form the plight of women who fall victim to conjugal violence and the failings of social services, according to her lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini. “Valérie was transformed by the extreme violence she suffered into a remote-controlled puppet who, against her will, became an object for her perverse husband,” they write in a preface to the book.
In too many cases, such violence ends with the woman being murdered. Earlier this month a 31-year-old mother-of-three in the Gironde died after her former partner shot her in both legs, poured petrol on her and set her on fire while still alive.
It was the 39th such killing this year, after 90 in 2020, according to Féminicides par compagnons ou ex (Women killed by partners or exes), a campaigning group that tracks such cases.
In a few instances such as Bacot’s, however, it is the victim who turns killer — as with Jacqueline Sauvage, whose case became a cause célèbre in France after she was sentenced to ten years in jail for shooting dead her husband in 2012 with a hunting rifle. He had abused her and driven their son to suicide. After an outcry over her treatment, François Hollande, then the president, gave Sauvage a full pardon.
Bacot’s growing band of supporters would like her to be pardoned too. “Even though she committed murder by killing her torturer,” their petition says, “given the 25 years of suffering she endured to general indifference, it is her freedom that we ask for.”
The campaign — together with Bacot’s highly unusual step of writing a book in effect justifying her actions — may not go down well with the court, however, and Bacot herself seems reconciled to her impending punishment.
“I am looking forward for this to end, to finally know what is in store for me,” she told Le Parisien. “I have done my job, fulfilled my role as a mother; now I can go to prison with peace of mind.
“I deserve to be jailed for a very long time. This trial is not only mine, it is also that of ‘the other’ ” — the term she uses for Polette, whose name she cannot bear to say out loud. “I hope that I can be stronger than him and for once in my life win against him.”
I used to regularly go into schools to teach consent workshops to teenagers aged between around 13 and 16, which included showing the students a video made by Thames Valley Police called Tea and Consent. I’ve seen this video so many times I can almost recite it by heart. It begins with this line: “If you’re still struggling with consent, just imagine that instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea…”
The video gently compares the act of making tea to the act of sex, appealing to the viewer’s common sense understanding of social niceties. Making someone a cup of tea is generous, right? But as a well socialised person, you’ll know that if someone says no to your offer of tea, you shouldn’t force it upon them, or get angry because they refused you. And you certainly shouldn’t pour tea down an unconscious person’s throat.
Although I don’t think my efforts in the workshops were entirely wasted, I also doubt they made much – if any –difference to rates of sexual violence within the schools. Consent workshops can potentially achieve two things: they can teach participants (including potential victims) what is and is not illegal, and they can offer schools the opportunity to declare a zero-tolerance attitude towards any kind of sexual misbehaviour. If, for instance, a student is caught sharing revenge porn after taking part in an official consent workshop, he or she can’t plausibly claim they did not know this act is both illegal and punishable by expulsion.
But many fans of consent workshops seem to believe their chief purpose is to do something fairly miraculous: to appeal to students’ empathy and common sense, thus dissuading potential rapists or, as the tea video phrases it, people “still struggling with consent” from acting on their desires. This hopeful project relies on the idea that the whole business of sexual violence is really just a consequence of some misunderstanding, swiftly cleared up during a 45-minute workshop in which children are told not to rape one another.
Forgive my cynicism, but I don’t think this workshop strategy is going to work. I find it odd that liberal feminist media outlets such as Teen Vogue will wax lyrical about the importance of consent education in schools, while also telling young readers it’s OK to watch porn that “portrays fantasies about non-consensual sex”. It is recklessly inconsistent to suggest, on the one hand, that consent workshops can have a profound effect on teenagers’ behaviour, while also insisting that exposing their young brains to porn depicting rape or other violence (even if only simulated) is nothing to worry about.
The arrival of the internet has changed both the quantity and quality of the porn that’s available. In a 2020 survey of men across several western European countries, respondents reported watching an average of 70 minutes of online porn a week – with 2.2 per cent watching more than seven hours. Within the last decade or so, BDSM content, particularly that featuring strangulation, has migrated from niche porn sites to mainstream porn sites and now to social media, including to platforms that advertise themselves as suitable for children aged 13 and over. You do not have to look hard to find these images. If you are exposed to mainstream porn or even just to mainstream social media, you are very likely to come across them unintentionally.
How on Earth is a consent workshop supposed to compete with the vast dopamine feedback loop offered by the online porn industry? Gail Dines, an academic specialising in violence against women, is one of the most pessimistic voices on this issue, and she describes the problem with painful clarity: “The pornographers are laying waste a whole generation of boys, and when you lay waste a generation of boys, you lay waste a generation of girls.”
The most popular porn sites are bombarding users with sexually violent material depicting rape, upskirting and other abuse, according to a landmark study.
An analysis of 131,738 titles on the homepages of Pornhub, XHamster and XVideos found that one in eight showed non-consensual or incestuous acts, including where the subjects were described as drugged, unconscious or “very young”.
More than 8,000 titles referred to physical aggression or forced sexual activity, even when the researchers excluded representations of consensual bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM) practices.
The study, published today in the British Journal of Criminology, is one of the most in-depth analyses of online porn to date and draws on the largest sample of mainstream material yet collected. Swathes of material depicting degrading and extreme violence against women were widely available to view for free and with no age checks.
The findings will fuel calls for measures to force porn companies to tackle harmful content, which campaigners and charities have said normalises violence against women.
First-time visitors were shown the material by default even though much of it contravened the sites’ terms and conditions, researchers from Durham University’s law school found.
Many of the videos included references to forced sexual activity — “rape porn” — which is illegal to possess or distribute in the UK, whether real or acted, if it is realistic.
“It is not the case that criminal material is relegated to niche sites, hidden from all but a determined viewer, or only available on the dark web,” the authors of the study write.
The findings come as Britain is rocked by allegations of sexual abuse at schools and by the death of Sarah Everard, 33, who went missing while walking home in Clapham, south London.
In recent weeks thousands of people have spoken out about their experiences of sexual violence, with many women describing times they have felt afraid in day-to-day situations.
Over six months in 2017-18, the researchers took hourly snapshots of content on the home pages of the three most popular sites, including 72,326 titles from XHamster, 40,401 from Pornhub and 38,858 from XVideos.
After removing videos with no description of the content, they used keywords to categorise titles in line with the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual violence. Each video was then reviewed and those that described consensual BDSM practices were excluded.
In total 2,966 titles on the homepages described criminal acts of image-based sexual abuse, including “Pharmacy store bathroom hidden cam”and “Upskirted in the train” and examples of so-called revenge porn.
A further 5,389 titles referred to physical aggression and 2,698 described coercion and exploitation.
Only one clip included the word “rape”, which is banned by the sites, but thousands described it in other terms, such as “Again and again forced” and “Boyfriend forced gf for sex”.
Common keywords included “grope” and “molest”, and many titles referred to women crying. Four included the word “chloroform”, a chemical used to incapacitate and kill. Another 5,785 titles described sexual activity between family members, making it the most common category of “sexually violent” material identified in the sample.
Previous research has shown young people turning to online porn as an educational tool. A recent survey by the British Board of Film Classification involving 16 and 17-year-olds found that most had viewed pornography that they found disturbing or overly aggressive, with many saying it influenced how they behaved in sexual encounters.
Clare McGlynn QC, a professor of law at Durham who co-authored the study, said: “It’s shocking that this is the material that the porn companies themselves are choosing to showcase to first-time users. Our findings raise serious questions about the extent of criminal material easily and freely available on mainstream porn websites and the efficacy of current regulatory mechanisms.”
She said it was common for descriptions of the most serious sexual offences to be characterised as ordinary or entertaining. “It’s no wonder that young women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse when this is normalised in the porn that is being offered to new users.”
Fiona Vera-Gray, a legal research fellow and co-author of the study, said sexually violent material “eroticised non-consent” and distorted “the boundary between sexual pleasure and sexual violence”.
The study has raised questions over the ability and willingness of sites to regulate themselves. Much of the material the researchers identified is likely to be in breach of the websites’ own terms and conditions.
In their policies, Pornhub and XVideos explicitly state that all content “depicting” child sexual abuse, rape, incest and forced sexual acts is prohibited, meaning simulations as well as real acts of violence are prohibited.
XHamster’s terms proscribe any material that is “unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing … invasive of another person’s privacy” or “hateful”.
The researchers said their analysis, which was carried out with the porn sites’ written consent, showed a “large gulf between what the companies say they prohibit and what is actually available”, although they added that their findings focused on the titles of the videos, rather than the footage itself.
They urged the government to use the Online Harms Bill to hold porn companies to account.
Legislation that will make Ofcom the regulator of “online harms”, and give it the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their turnover for failings relating to harmful content, is being prepared by the government, but the most intense scrutiny so far has been reserved for social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Despite being less talked about, the porn sites — which allow users to upload their own content, like YouTube — command huge audiences. XVideos is the seventh-most visited website in the world while Pornhub, the UK’s top porn site, is 13th globally and XHamster 20th, according to rankings on SimilarWeb, making them more popular than eBay, PayPal and LinkedIn.
In addition to sexually violent material, much of the content on the website homepages fetishised sex with teenagers, including those who are underage. The most frequently occurring word overall was “teen”, which occurred in 7.7 per cent of video titles and 8.5 per cent of those found to describe sexual violence, while 26 videos included the words “very young”.
All the sites claim a zero-tolerance policy on child sexual abuse material and block searches for related keywords.
The research has added to concerns around porn websites’ moderation practices, which have long been criticised for being weak. Last October, an investigation by Vice News found that XHamster hired unpaid reviewers to moderate the site and instructed them: “Do not remove any content if you’re not 100 per cent sure that it’s illegal to be here.”
Since the Durham study began in 2017, Mindgeek, Pornhub’s parent company, claims to have cracked down on illegal content, removing millions of user-uploaded videos in December after Mastercard ended its relationship over further abuse claims.
Unilever and Heinz cut ties with Pornhub in 2019 after it was found to host content showing illegal acts, including secretly filmed “creepshots” of schoolgirls and clips of men performing sex acts in front of teenagers on buses.
Last week, in contravention of their own terms and conditions, content depicting rape, incest and other abuse remained widespread on all three sites.
Pornhub disputed the findings of the study and claimed all content on its website depicted “consensual kinks”. A spokesman said: “Consenting adults are entitled to their own sexual preferences, as long as they are legal and consensual, and all kinks that meet these criteria are welcome on Pornhub.”
The company said any suggestion it allowed illegal content was “categorically and factually inaccurate” and that it had instituted an “industry-leading” policy to identify and eradicate illegal material, as well as banning content from unverified users and expanding its moderation practices.
XVideos said: “We prohibit the uploading of illegal content, remove potentially illegal content when it is brought to our attention, and work with law enforcement in appropriate cases.”
Neither site commented on claims they had failed to remove content prohibited by their own terms and conditions.
XHamster did not respond to requests for comment.
Caroline Nokes, the MP who chairs the women and equalities committee, called for age certification of porn sites as promised by Theresa May’s government.
“Porn is part of the problem that underpins male violence against women and so must be addressed,” she said. “This is giving young people a very warped view of sex and relationships and even more worryingly is normalising this kind of behaviour.”
Suddenly everyone is talking about a “rape culture” in schools. Not for the first time, it has to be said, but influential MPs, headteachers and senior police officers are urging anyone who has been attacked to report their experiences. “Every victim who comes forward will be believed, will be listened to and dealt with sensitively,” according to Simon Bailey, the national police lead for child protection. Really?
I don’t doubt that “rape culture” exists within schools, or that some headteachers have been reluctant to confront it. At meetings of the mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board, we have heard anecdotal evidence about schools where girls wear shorts under uniform skirts to protect themselves from sexual assault. But there is nothing unique about what happens in educational settings. It reflects what is happening in the wider world, where the stark fact is that very few sexual predators face any form of justice.
Official figures tell the story: on average, about 1,060 women report a rape to the police in England and Wales each week. Only 40 of those rapes will lead to a prosecution, and about 27 will end in a conviction. More than 1,000 men a week are getting away with rape, in other words, and that’s only the cases known to the police. Many more go unreported, never featuring in the statistics.
When public figures urge girls to report rape, they should be honest about the fact that they are directing victims into a completely broken system; rape has all but been decriminalised, encouraging a culture of impunity among perpetrators. Hardly any rapists end up in prison, so what do they have to fear?
The government is poised to publish the latest in a long line of reviews of what’s gone wrong with rape investigations, but I could have saved it the trouble. Rape and serious sexual assault are the only crimes where it is victims, not the likely perpetrators, who are treated with suspicion. When a rape inquiry opens, police focus on complainants, making incredibly intrusive inquiries into their previous history. Girls who may now be thinking of going to the police need to know they will probably be asked to hand over their mobile phones, even if they contain intimate photos and messages, and to provide access to school and medical records.
Cases often collapse as a result: say a girl accuses boy X of rape, and detectives find a jokey text message from three months ago telling a friend she fancies X. Understanding of consent is so poor that it will be treated as undermining the credibility of her complaint, even though we are all entitled to change our minds about whether to have sex with someone, especially if the other party is rough or threatening.
There are now more than 8,000 posts on the Everyone’s Invited website, but it does not seem likely that they will change this atmosphere of corrosive distrust towards victims. Bailey’s statement that girls who come forward will be believed is hard to square with pronouncements from the country’s most senior police officer, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, who in 2018 reversed her force’s policy of believing individuals who report rape.
It was national policy at the time, adopted in 2011 after an outcry over the impunity Jimmy Savile enjoyed in his lifetime. But then the Metropolitan police were severely criticised over the way they handled Operation Midland, the disastrous inquiry into a nonexistent paedophile ring at Westminster. The complainant was a male fantasist, quite unlike most rape victims, and he subsequently went to prison for perverting the course of justice.
Dick’s kneejerk response was to tell her officers to have an “open mind” when they hear a rape allegation. She also made remarks that don’t bode well for girls weighing up whether to report attacks at school: “Speaking as a cop, opposed to a citizen, I’m interested in crime. If it’s a long time ago, or it’s very trivial, or I’m not likely to get a criminal justice outcome, I’m not going to spend a lot of resources on it.”
Some may be the type of case that the police and prosecutors find most challenging, where the accuser and alleged perpetrator are known to each other, and may have consumed alcohol before the attack. I don’t doubt that the assurances now being offered are sincere, but the risk of creating unrealistic expectations is very high.
We live in a society where half the population faces an ever-present threat of sexual harassment and assault at school, at work and in our own homes. But the criminal justice system is so intent on protecting the interests of men and boys accused of rape, it no longer does its basic job of providing justice for victims.
Students at private schools have said allegations of sexual abuse by fellow pupils have been ignored because staff wish to protect the reputation of the school – and the income associated with its prestige.
One girl, who says she was raped by a boy at school, said her teachers handed her allegation to the police before “washing their hands of it to protect their image”.
The debate about how our schools are run has escalated recently after a website was set up for victims to post anonymous accounts of abuse they had suffered. There are even calls for a public inquiry.
The number of allegations made by pupils on the Everyone’s Invited website now number in their thousands, with children as young as nine posting testimonies claiming assault, harassment and rape.
Many of the claims are made by young women about the young men who are at school or college or university with them, or part of the same social groups.
Speaking anonymously, an 18-year-old girl told the BBC she was raped by a boy who was “one of the brightest students” at her school, the name of which she did not disclose.
“So therefore it was his needs above mine, they didn’t want him to be removed,” she said. “They didn’t want him to have his prefect badge taken away because it would affect his future.
“And they want to be able to say, oh, yeah, we taught this child and they were so bright, so they didn’t do anything. He didn’t get any sanctions. They just didn’t want to get in his way.
“I’ve been on anti-depressants for a year and almost went on anti-anxiety tablets to help with my sleeping because obviously that’s been affected”.
The girl’s mother believes “there was a fear of what other people, families, parents might think.
“And if you think about a private school, they need people to be coming to pay their bills. They need the next intake,” she said.
“And if they are embroiled in a scandal, that’s going to have an impact on them”.
Highgate School in north London is among the private schools caught up in the claims.
A former student of the school says when she took her claims to staff, she was ignored: “A friend raped me at a party in Year 13 [upper sixth].
“I reported the rape to the school eight days afterwards – and so began their massive failure to support me.
“In a meeting with my parents, a senior member of staff said ‘alcohol was involved’, suggesting that this made my situation less legitimate.
“I was told that it was merely my word against his.”
BBC Newsnight has seen a several-page dossier containing hundreds of testimonies saying similar things.
The school said it is launching an “immediate external review of the sexual abuse and harassment allegations” and is “working on an anti-sexism plan”.
Private schools partly rely on private financing through their fees – some of those listed on the Everyone’s Invited website charge more than £20,000 a year.
Students from these schools often go to the best universities, so the fees are seen as a good investment and a guarantee of a good education.
But there are calls for less focus on academia and more focus on behaviour and attitudes.
Sir Anthony Seldon, the former head of the independent Wellington College, called the emerging scandal “a horror”.
“We need to have a revitalised education system that really does the best for every child… instead of just giving them all the educational advantages but also the development of their holistic character, their creativity, their ability to be able to perform well in work and in society, knowing how to manage their mental health.
“I mean, goodness, school is about so much more than just tests and exams”.
The Department for Education has reiterated it is working with the police to provide support and protection to those reporting abuse.
The alleged victims are hoping that shining a very public light onto their claims can lead to change – but some fear when that spotlight is switched off, these changing attitudes could fade.
While developing a report on child sexual abuse and exploitation, I have been fortunate to benefit from the advice of a group of survivors who can speak to failings in our system with an expertise we all wish they did not have. Brave and brilliant men and women from all walks of life pulling together to try to drive up standards for the children of today. I have developed nearly 100 policy recommendations to improve our response to these awful crimes with their support and guidance.
We have discussed at length the public conversation on sexual violence that has taken place over the last few weeks: the outpourings of testimony from women and girls on violence and abuse they have endured, the desperate statistics on charging and conviction rates, the shared grief at the scores of female lives cut short by male violence. We were disappointed but unsurprised to see social media littered with the angry retort: what about men? On this we are clear: if you are only speaking up for male survivors of sexual violence when you are interrupting abused women, do not fool yourself into thinking that you are doing anything to help. The pain of these men is not a clever retort to shut down women and their suffering is cheapened when it is used this way.
Statistics for the year ending March 2019 indicated that 92 per cent of those who had been sexually abused in childhood were hurt by men — 700,000 of those victimised were little boys. If you care about these children, you care about male violence. This is not to say that we do not need to be concerned about female offenders or that those abused by women matter less. We all recall with horror the crimes of Vanessa George, the nursery worker in Plymouth who harmed countless infants and toddlers. The overwhelming majority of child sexual offenders are men however and we must tackle that head on. Confronting sexual violence and trying to cut it out at the root creates a safer society for everyone — men and women.
So, what can we do to better recognise the needs of male survivors of sexual abuse? First, call out homophobia wherever you hear it. Three separate male survivors on the group shared that boys were often frightened to disclose sexual abuse because they were worried this would lead to aspersions being cast about their sexuality. Let us make sure we are not adding to the shame and secrecy felt by many abuse survivors by allowing homophobia to thrive. When your friend makes a cruel joke about gay men — challenge them. In doing this you are helping to end a culture that silences abused boys. Eradicating stigmatising and mean-minded attitudes on homosexuality is the right thing to do in and of itself. It also will help break down a barrier to disclosing abuse facing little boys.
A crucial source of support for survivors of sexual abuse are independent sexual violence advisers. These professionals are there solely for the individual and help them through criminal justice processes with information and advocacy. Research from the University of Bedfordshire makes clear that having such an adviser can vastly improve outcomes for survivors, from the likelihood of seeing a perpetrator charged right the way through to getting a successful conviction.
Government has recognised the value of these advisers with a cash injection for expanding the service. This funding is hugely welcome but must be used for plugging gaps that exist in this workforce. These crimes are sensitive and complex so some male survivors would, of course, prefer to work with another man. But only 3 per cent of this workforce is male meaning that this very often is not an option. To redress this imbalance, the government should ring-fence a proportion of this money and ensure it is going towards training up male advisers for men and boys who have been abused. Perhaps some of those who have been so keen to impress their solidarity with male victims upon us in recent weeks could step away from Twitter and consider training up — check out The Survivors Trust for more information.
The male survivors I have worked with are funny, warm, erudite and empathetic. They have greatly enriched my work and become dear friends. They deserve support and recognition, not for their suffering to be used as a comeback designed to undermine women sharing their experiences of sexual violence. We should be looking to improve access to support and justice for all cohorts of survivors, not tearing down female victims because male victims also exist. Let us raise the bar for everyone.
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.”
The Football Association, Premier League and leading clubs have issued formal apologies after a landmark inquiry said that generations of young footballers suffered horrific sexual abuse because of the wholesale absence of child protection policies, ignorance and naivety.
Led by Clive Sheldon QC, the inquiry found the FA culpable of “institutional failure” at its delay in introducing safeguarding after 1995, when Barry Bennell and some high-profile abusers in other sports had already been prosecuted and convicted.
“The FA acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate … child protection measures [from 1995]. These are significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse. During this period, the FA did not do enough to keep children safe.”
Bennell’s abuse of the footballer Andy Woodward was first reported by the Guardian in 2016, prompting hundreds more victims to come forward, police investigations and convictions, and the FA to set up the Sheldon inquiry.
The 700-page Sheldon report was acknowledged by the leading football institutions and the FA agreed to accept all its key recommendations, mainly around safeguarding. “Today is a dark day for the beautiful game,” said Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the FA. “One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.”
But Ian Ackley, a victim of Bennell’s abuse, and some other survivors criticised the strength of those recommendations, arguing that such measures should have been introduced immediately after the scandals emerged in 2016.
There was also widespread outrage at the report’s revelation that Dario Gradi, the veteran coach who worked alongside Bennell at Crewe, told Sheldon in an interview “that he did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be an assault”. Gradi regarded it as “petty touching”. Sheldon stated that he told Gradi it was an assault, “and he then accepted that”.
The inquiry identified failures to act adequately on complaints or rumours of sexual abuse at eight professional clubs, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Southampton, Peterborough – and at Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra and Stoke City, where Bennell was a youth coach. Sheldon found that in general, football and the young people who played the sport were left vulnerable to abuse by an absence of a safeguarding culture, that victims were bullied, scared or manipulated into silence, and very few specific reports of abuse were made within clubs, or to the FA.
Before 1995, Sheldon said the FA did “nothing proactive to address safeguarding and protect children from child sexual abuse in the sport”. There was no guidance, training or general awareness of child protection issues from 1970 to the mid-1990s, and people working in football “did not pick up on the signs of potential abuse”.
However Sheldon absolved the FA from criticism for those decades in which the sport had no child protection in place for its young players, placing that in the context of general attitudes at the time. “I do not consider that the FA’s inaction during this period is blameworthy. For most of this period, child abuse was generally seen as something which occurred within the family setting or in residential environments, and not within the world of sport.”
Sheldon added, however, that where incidents of abuse were reported at clubs, “their responses were rarely competent or appropriate”, and where there were “warning signs”, such as rumours of inappropriate behaviour, staff often missed them or took no action.
“This was usually out of ignorance or naivety. There was often a feeling that without ‘concrete evidence’ or a specific allegation from a child, nothing could, or should, be done, and so there was a reluctance to investigate or monitor, let alone confront the perpetrator and interfere with his actions. As a result, in many cases, perpetrators were able to hide within football, and use their positions, to ruin the lives of many children.”
During two spells at Crewe, Bennell seriously sexually abused young players, including Woodward. Considering disputed accounts of what senior people at the club knew of Bennell, Sheldon concluded that they did not receive any specific reports of abuse, a conclusion also reached by Cheshire constabulary.
However, Sheldon said that he did believe that concerns about inappropriate behaviour, including boys staying at Bennell’s house, had been discussed by the then chairman Norman Rowlinson, director John Bowler who succeeded Rowlinson as chairman, and another director, Hamilton Smith.
“I am also satisfied that, during Bennell’s time at the Club, there were rumours circulating about [Bennell] and his sexual interest in children which were heard by some of the Club’s staff, including Dario Gradi.” Sheldon said the club “should have done more to check on the wellbeing of the boys”, and monitored Bennell’s activities.
Similar criticism was levelled at Manchester City, where Bennell was associated as a coach in the early 1980s, and Stoke City, where he went after he left Crewe in the early 1990s.
Chelsea were found to have given no protection to a young player who reported abuse by the youth coach Eddie Heath in 1975. Sheldon said he could not decide whether Gradi, who was then the assistant manager at Chelsea, informed the club’s acting manager, Ron Suart, of concerns raised at a meeting with the player’s father. Either way, Gradi’s or Suart’s response was inadequate, he found.
“Aston Villa FC should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by [the youth coach] Ted Langford to the police when his role as a scout was terminated in July 1989,” the report said.
Newcastle delayed acting on reports of abuse by George Ormond, who was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison; he remained at the club for “many months” after the reports were made.
Peterborough and Southampton were also aware of rumours about the behaviour of their youth coach Bob Higgins, Sheldon found, but failed to take steps to monitor him: “Had Higgins been properly monitored this might have prevented some of his abuse of young players.”
Sheldon also highlighted the lack of criminal background checks on adults working with young children. Frank Roper had criminal convictions in 1960, 1961 and 1965 but was still heavily involved in youth coaching, attached to Blackpool FC, and serially abused young players including Paul Stewart, one of the victims who has spoken out about the abuse.
While recognising the FA’s overhaul of child protection after 2000 and substantial improvements since, Sheldon made 13 recommendations for further improvements. These include: having full-time, qualified safeguarding officers at Premier League and Championship clubs and qualified officers in League One and League Two clubs spending a minimum 50% of their time on safeguarding; for a member of the FA board to be designated “children’s safeguarding champion”; for the FA to develop a five-year strategy “to support the voice of children”, widen spot checks of amateur clubs, have a “national day of safeguarding in football” and publish an annual safeguarding report.
The Offside Trust, which is run by survivors, said in a statement: “We are deeply disappointed that an opportunity to create a world-class standard of child protection and safeguarding in sport has been missed.
“The recommendations are ones which would have been blindingly obvious to anyone within a few weeks of the scandal breaking. The FA should have immediately made these most basic of changes around training, awareness, spot checks and transparency without waiting for a 700-page report.”
The FA, despite Sheldon’s conclusion that its inaction had not been “blameworthy”, issued a “heartfelt apology” to the survivors and appeared to accept some responsibility for the abuse not having been recognised and prevented.
The Premier League and EFL also issued apologies for the abuse, and said they would be implementing the report’s recommendations. Manchester City, Newcastle, Southampton and Peterborough issued statements apologising to the victims; Southampton said: “For a professional football club not to prevent this abuse or be able to provide support for anyone speaking up to report it, is inexcusable.”
City, who published an inquiry by Jane Mulcahy QC into the abuse perpetrated at the club by Bennell and two other historical abusers, John Broome and Bill Toner, said they had set up a scheme for survivors in 2019 which offers compensation, paid counselling and personal apologies from a senior board director.
The leader of England’s top public schools says she is willing to refer boys to the police after more than 3,000 allegations, ranging from sexual harassment to rape, were posted on Instagram.
Eton, St Paul’s, Harrow, Hampton and Latymer Upper are named in the anonymous accounts of sexual abuse, some from girls as young as 11, posted on @everyonesinvited.
A small number of state schools and universities are also named on the site, set up by Soma Sara, 22, a former boarder at Wycombe Abbey.
The claims include more than 50 of rape, 35 allegedly linked to schools.
One contributor describes being choked until she passed out. Others detail Instagram pages where nude photographs are shared and rated. Many describe being pressured into giving oral sex. One said she was told by boys that she reminded them of “the Asian girls in porn”.
Maria Miller, the former chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, said this weekend that schools and the police “should not ignore rape or violent sexual assault [just] because they involve children” and “boys must be taught trying to strangle someone is not normal”.
In a letter to alumni, Sally-Anne Huang, the first female high master of St Paul’s and head of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents top public schools, said she had seen the Instagram site, “which seeks to bring people together to understand and reject sexual violence and harassment”.
She wrote: “There are many responses to its testimonials section, some harrowing, and there is a focus on rape culture within schools. A number of these testimonials cite Paulines as the perpetrators … We have made children’s services aware of the website and would always investigate fully … informing the police where a criminal act may have been committed.”
No names had been provided and so the police had not been informed, Huang added.
Sarah Fletcher, head of St Paul’s girls’ school, wrote to parents last week about comments by its pupils on the website. “It is evident that there remains a culture among some young men and boys of this activity … My heart goes out to everyone whose experiences are recorded,” she said, adding that counselling would be offered.
Kevin Knibbs, headmaster at Hampton School in southwest London, wrote to parents: “We have no tolerance whatsoever of the kind of behaviours highlighted on this website.”
Many public schools emphasised that they had brought in initiatives, including Good Lad workshops, to tackle toxic masculine behaviour.
But in an interview with The Times yesterday, Sara said: “In the holidays I grew up in London social circles and sex was a palpable presence throughout my teens. Disgusting behaviour was trivialised. It could be sexual coercion, rape, catcalling, sexual bullying, stealthing [non-consensual condom removal], image-based abuse, victim blaming. Sexual abuse didn’t just exist. It thrived. It was rife.”
Miller, who led an inquiry into sexual abuse in schools five years ago, said too many were still not reporting abuse to the police or doing enough to stop teenagers posting intimate photos online.
“No one wants to criminalise young people, but if there have been violent sexual attacks on young women in schools this cannot be ignored,” she said.
A former pupil at St Paul’s girls’ school said: “The school could have done much more. Sexual violence and consent were discussed with boys at the boys’ school in the form of a joint feminist society, even though this was often met with laughter or disdain by male students.”
A leading former headmaster said schools should report boys to the police in the hope that it would stop them getting a criminal record later. He also warned girls that a nude photo texted to a boy would end up online. “Don’t trust boys,” he said. Parents should protect their sons from online pornography, which was distorting their behaviour, and schools should “get the police to explain what the law says”, he added. “Boys need to worry.”
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council and former headmaster of Harrow, said many schools had introduced courses on “how to treat girls properly”, which, he added, “would never have happened 20 years ago”.