Schools may cover up sex offences to protect reputations, says NPCC lead
Schools may have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection has said.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey told The Times that the torrent of allegations was the education sector’s “MeToo” moment, and he was concerned that a “culture of misogyny and sexual harassment” had not been challenged in some schools.
Mr Bailey is also the lead officer for Operation Hydrant which was established in 2014 to deliver the national policing response, oversight, and coordination of non-recent child sexual abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence or in within institutional settings.
Mr Bailey said: “If somebody has been privy to rape or serious sexual assault then we want to hear from them. 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 covered up reports to protect their reputation, Mr Bailey told the newspaper that he did not 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.”
Asked about the extent of the abuse issue, he said: “What I’m 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 and the state sector and in the private sector as well, this is not something that is exclusive only to the private schools.”
He added: “I think there is a real issue for society, I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind about that whatsoever and there is a real issue I believe in what children now see and view as healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships and what is permissible and what is acceptable.
“And unfortunately I think the ready and easy access to pornography is a driver to that, the sexualisation of women is a driver to that and unfortunately a culture has grown over recent years whereby in the minds of some people it is acceptable to treat young women in particular in a manner we are now seeing disclosed on the website.”
“I think parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children, both their sons and daughters, recognise and understand what good values are, what respect and trust and honesty are, how to treat people and I think they should be educating them to also have that difficult conversation around… inevitably viewing pornography. That is not real, that is not a relationship in any way, shape or form and in exactly the same way, the school sector I think should be reinforcing those points.”
He added: “It’s so important that within schools a culture is created where actually misogyny, sexual harassment and abuse are simply not tolerated and if the culture changes in schools then we’ll start to make some progress.”
He urged parents to report any abuse, saying: “If parents are aware that their son or their daughter has been a victim of abuse, then please come forward and report the abuse, your son or daughter, their account will be believed and we will deal with it appropriately.
“If as a parent you are aware that your son has been responsible for a sexual assault then I think you should again be taking your son to the police and saying, ‘Look I’ve now become aware that this is what my son has done’.”
His comments come after a senior MP said an inquiry should be set up to look into allegations of a “rape culture” at a number of independent schools.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Robert Halfon said that what has allegedly been happening at some of the country’s most distinguished schools was “appalling” and it had spread to state schools too.
The chair of the Education Select Committee said that countless stories had emerged of female pupils being “objectified, harassed and sexually assaulted”, with websites set up by students highlighting “a rape culture”.
Mr Halfon welcomed an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) but said an independent inquiry should be launched after the police probe.
He added: “After the police investigation, there should be an independent inquiry looking into all these allegations – what exactly has gone on, why it was allowed to take place and what the schools did to try and stop it.
“Rather than marking their own safeguarding failures (as some schools are trying to do by appointing their own judge and jury), headteachers and governors should be held directly accountable. If found wanting, they should step down from their positions.”
A Department for Education source said that it will take action if schools do not meet the strict safeguarding standards including closing them down.
They added: “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 MPS said it had received multiple reports of offences after reviewing a website featuring anonymous submissions of “misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault”.
The force said it had reviewed testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, a site where people can anonymously share their experiences of abuse.
It said officers had been establishing whether any potential victims in London could be encouraged to report crimes, with several people coming forward.
A link is also now available on the website to directly report crimes to Scotland Yard.
Meanwhile, a report led by Conservative MP and former Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned of an “epidemic” of child sexual assault.
The Centre for Social Justice think-tank report called for all school staff to be trained to spot signs of abuse and for school nursing staff to be restored to pre-2010 levels to enhance identification.
It comes after a number of independent schools in the country were accused of failing to deal with complaints about a “rape culture”, with many testimonies shared on Everyone’s Invited.
The MPS rape and sexual offences lead Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday it was a “national issue” and more widespread than private schools.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are very concerned by the significant number of allegations recently posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The abuse of children and young people in all its forms is abhorrent.
“The vast majority of schools, colleges and universities take their safeguarding responsibilities very seriously, so it is particularly shocking when allegations of abuse are made in connection with a place of education where everyone should feel secure and be protected.
“Working together, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council are in contact with ‘Everyone’s Invited’ to provide support, protection and advice to those who are reporting abuse, including on contacting professionals or the police if they wish.”