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The Telegraph

Girls should report sexual assault allegations to ‘someone they trust’, says Gavin Williamson

Teenage girls should report allegations of sexual assault to “someone they trust” as well as online, the Education Secretary has said. Gavin Williamson has urged young women to come forward and make a formal disclosure to a teacher, social worker or the police so that their claims can be properly investigated. His intervention in the private school “rape culture” row came after Britain’s most senior child protection officer said parents should hand their son into the police if they thought he was responsible for a sex attack. Mr Williamson vowed to take “appropriate action” against any perpetrators of the “shocking and abhorrent” allegations that have been made in recent weeks. But he said that as well as writing anonymous testimonies on social media and in open letters, victims should also speak to someone in person about their experiences. “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. “No school – whether an independent school or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place.” The founder of Everyone’s Invited, the website where the allegations emerged, said it had seen a 33 per cent increase in state school allegations. Meanwhile, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, called on parents to report abuse to the police including when their own child is the perpetrator. He also suggested that schools may have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputation. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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’.” He added that it is a “reasonable assumption” that some schools may have covered up allegations, but said he does not have any evidence of this “at the moment”. “In some cases schools will have made the decision just to deal with the allegations internally rather than reporting them when they actually should have done,” he said. On Monday the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for an inquiry into the allegations saying that it must “get going very fast” given the severity of the allegations. Barnaby Lenon, the chair of the Independent Schools Council, said he would welcome an independent inquiry as he acknowledged that “further work needs to be done”. But he added that the issue cannot be dealt with by schools alone as many alleged instances have taken place during weekends and holidays. Maria Miller, the Conservative MP who oversaw a report into sexual harassment in 2016 while chairman of the women and equalities committee, said Ofsted must investigate the allegations as part of a “deep dive” inquiry into how complaints of sexual abuse were handled in schools. The Girls’ School Association (GSA), which represents some of the country’s most prestigious private girls’ schools, said that its members are reviewing the sex education they provide. Donna Stevens, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Our schools are looking into what more they can do to support their students and also to work alongside other schools to educate all young people about sex and healthy relationships and create a culture of mutual respect.” On Monday, a new open letter was sent to eight leading private schools – including Tonbridge School in Kent, Stowe School in Buckingham, Charterhouse School in Surrey and Bryanston School in Dorset – accusing them of presiding over a “serious misogynistic culture”. Zan Moon, a 24-year-old operations executive at the Prince’s Trust charity, said she wrote the letter after gathering testimonies from dozens of young women who detailed the abuse they had experienced at the hands of pupils and former from the schools. All the schools named in the letter said they were distressed to read the allegations and took them extremely seriously. A Government spokesperson said they are “very concerned” by the hundreds of allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment published on the Everyone’s Invited website, which was set up for current and former school pupils to share their experiences. They said that officials from the Department for Education and the Home Office, as well as the police, are in contact with the website’s managers to provide “support, protection and advice”.



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