Pressure grows on UK govt to probe 'rape culture' in education
London, United Kingdom: Pressure intensified Tuesday on the UK government to act over claims that a "rape culture" is "endemic" throughout the country's education system after thousands of victims' testimonies were collated online.
Politicians and education leaders were among those calling on ministers to respond following the deluge of first-hand accounts of sexual abuse, assault, and other misconduct posted anonymously on the website "Everyone's Invited".
Created by 22-year-old Sara Soma last summer, it has cataloged nearly 10,000 testimonies from more than 38,000 contributors, detailing harrowing alleged incidents ranging from catcalling to rape across schools, colleges, and universities.
The number of reports has increased dramatically since the disappearance and death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard as she walked home in London this month, sparking outrage and a national debate on women's safety.
"From the testimonies 'Everyone's Invited' has received it is clear that rape culture is endemic," Soma wrote in The Times newspaper this week.
"Let's hope there is a snowball effect and rape culture is better understood and eradicated," she added.
"It's in all parts of society including all universities and all schools."
Incidents involving boys from scores of schools have been collated, including some attending elite fee-paying establishments such as Sherborne, Westminster, and Eton, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William studied.
In recent days the reports have broadened to include numerous schools in the state-run education system as well as universities.
London's Metropolitan Police has said it is assessing whether those who have posted their stories could be encouraged to report crimes, and that "a number of reports of specific offenses" were being examined.
The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) has urged parents to take their sons to the police if they are responsible for a sexual assault.
'Beyond the school gates'
Education minister Gavin Williamson has called the victims' testimonies "shocking and abhorrent" and vowed to take "appropriate action", while providing few specific details.
"Any victim of these sickening acts that we've seen reported should raise their concerns with someone they trust, whether that's a family member or friend, a teacher, social worker, or the police," he said Monday.
Meanwhile, the education and interior ministries, along with the NPCC, are in contact with "Everyone's Invited" to provide "support, protection, and advice to those who are reporting abuse", a government spokeswoman said.
That includes contacting professionals or the police if requested, she added.
However, the main opposition Labour Party is pushing for a more comprehensive response.
"I'm really worried about what we are seeing," its leader Keir Starmer said Monday. "There's got to be an inquiry and it has got to get going very fast; this is serious."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, agreed there was "clearly an urgent need to ask ourselves what more we can all do to prevent sexual harassment and violence".
He added: "There is no doubt that schools can and should play a key role in this work, but this is a problem that reaches far beyond the school gates."
Maria Miller, an MP from the ruling Conservatives who oversaw a 2016 watchdog report into the issue, said it appeared little had changed in the five years since it published its findings.
She noted that British school regulator Ofsted was now required to monitor sexual harassment allegations and action, and called for it to conduct a "deep dive" to assess if that was happening.