Allegations of sexual assault and harassment by pupils of private schools that have exploded online in recent days may be the “tip of the iceberg”, a leading police officer has warned.
Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, also said he feared such abuse was being tolerated or covered up in some cases.
It comes after thousands of people posted claims of sexual assault, harassment and rape on the website Everyone’s Invited. The NPCC, Home Office and Department for Education (DfE) are working with the site’s organisers to support those making the reports.
“I think that this is the tip of the iceberg if you look at the number of testimonies that are now being recorded on the site,” Mr Bailey told The Daily Telegraph. “This is going to be the next big scandal.”
He said that some schools might be covering up attacks by their pupils, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t have any evidence of that at the moment, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption.
“It’s predictable and it’s a reasonable assumption that in some cases and hopefully it’s only just a few, but 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.”
Mr Bailey, who is also chief constable of Norfolk Police, said he expected reports of recent and historic sexual attacks to come in from both private and state schools, as well as universities.
He blamed pornography for what he said was a growing culture of the mistreatment of women, and for a degradation in “what children now see and view as healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships and what is permissible and what is acceptable”.
Anonymous claims of abuse on Everyone’s Invited have multiplied to nearly 8,000. Many named the schools where the abuse was said to have happened, or where the attacker attended. However, not all related to school or university abuse, with some posts detailing alleged incidents within families or on the street.
Soma Sara, its founder, wrote in The Times that “rape culture is endemic”. She added: “It’s in all parts of society including all universities and all schools. Seeing this long-overdue discussion being narrowed down to private schools is disappointing.”
The Metropolitan Police said on Friday it had reviewed the posts on Everyone’s Invited, and that “where schools have been named on this website, officers are making contact with those schools and offering specialist support for any potential victims of sexual assaults”.
An investigation was launched into two allegations of non-recent sexual assault last week after Dulwich College, a fee-paying school, told parents it had passed some claims to officers.
The NPCC and Department for Education are setting up a helpline for victims of abuse which is expected to be live this week. The national policing body’s Operation Hydrant will take referrals from the NSPCC charity and pass them on to individual police forces.
On Sunday, Robert Halfon, the chair of the Commons education select committee, said a public inquiry should take place into “what exactly has gone on, why it was allowed to take place and what the schools did to try and stop it”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leader, said in a statement that both state and independent schools followed DfE guidance on how to manage and prevent safeguarding problems.
He added: “This highlights the importance of making it clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment are not acceptable, will never be tolerated and are not an inevitable part of growing up.”