Exposure to danger

Understandably, much of the commentary around Everyone’s Invited focusses on what is perceived to be cultural issues affecting young people, and what schools can do to foster a positive culture and address a negative one. Linking specific harm to alleged failures in that task will always be difficult, as in the related area of school bullying. This should not obscure the fact that there are mistakes schools could make which, whilst not establishing a direct legal liability for the wrongs of pupils, could readily produce sufficient causal link to create liability.

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Vicarious and secondary trauma in education in the wake of Everyone’s Invited

Media attention surrounding the issues raised by the spotlight shone on abuse and harassment of various forms suffered by pupils in educational settings in recent months has, and rightly so, been focused on the impact on the students themselves.  However what may be at risk of being overlooked is the potential impact on those members of staff who are involved at various stages in picking up the pieces.  In other words, to adapt a well-known maxim, Quis curabit ipsos curantes?

According to the most recently published HSE statistics for Work-related Stress, Anxiety or Depression in Great Britain, 2020, the education sector continues, as in previous years, to feature with significantly higher prevalence rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety than the average across all industries.  The average rate according to the HSE statistics is 1570 cases per 100,000 workers; for the education sector, the rate is almost 40% higher, at 2170 cases per 100,000 workers.

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Everyone’s Invited – employment law

Many testimonials on the Everyone’s Invited website involve allegations of sexual abuse and violence made by students and/or former students against both existing and former staff of schools, colleges and universities.

It is vital not only in terms of an educational institution’s statutory safeguarding obligations to its students and staff but also as a matter of best employment practice that such allegations are taken very seriously and properly investigated following the organisation’s own procedures.

Many organisations have in place a specific sexual harassment policy or an anti-harassment and bullying policy and procedure. Where they do not then they should follow ACAS’s Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

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Everyone’s Invited and the public sector

As noted in our earlier blogs the sheer number of testimonies shared on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website strongly suggests that rape culture is prevalent not only in universities and independent schools, but also in the state education sector. Over 50 state schools have been named. Many education authorities are only now becoming cognisant of the extent of its existence and, as a result, the liabilities to which they may be exposed. State schools will be part of Ofsted’s focus as much as the independent sector.

It goes without saying that state education establishments have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children at their establishment. Schools and colleges, and of course their staff, form part of the wider safeguarding system for children and all those who come into contact with such children have a role to play.

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Personal Injury claims

Yesterday we considered peer on peer abuse; today we consider whether such abuse might result in claims for compensation. Much of the coverage of the allegations on the Everyone’s Invited website presumes that claims against education establishments arising from peer on peer abuse will be difficult to bring. That is because the claimant will have to show negligence by the relevant organisation as opposed to holding that organisation vicariously liable for an act of assault/abuse. As such in order to succeed the claimant has to prove not just abuse by another student but that the school was negligent in causing or permitting the abuse to take place.

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Peer on peer abuse – what is it?

In our series considering the recent disturbing allegations on the Everyone’s Invited website, today’s focus is on the issue of peer on peer abuse. This has been brought into sharp focus and has caused schools and colleges to examine what their obligations are, legal and otherwise arising from peer on peer abuse and to reflect on whether they are doing enough to detect and prevent peer on peer abuse as part of their overarching responsibility for safeguarding children in their care.

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Everyone’s Invited: Over 15,000 survivor testimonials – what has been said and what is happening in response

The movement, Everyone’s Invited, seeks to provide education on the ‘complex reality of rape culture’ and to promote the need for the issue to be tackled across the education sector.

In an interview to the BBC, Soma Sara advised of the “normalising and trivialising” of incidents such as groping, revenge-porn and non-consensual sharing of intimate photos, potentially creating a “gateway to more extreme criminal acts”.

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Everyone’s Invited

In June 2020, Soma Sara established the Everyone’s Invited website to gather testimonials of survivors of sexual abuse and violence with an aim to eradicating rape culture. Using social media, Soma shared her experience of rape culture and within one week she received over 300 anonymous responses detailing similar experiences.

Following the murder of Sarah Everard the number of testimonials made on the website increased significantly with many schools including over 50 state schools, over 400 independent schools and over 80 universities being identified in connection with those testimonials. As a result of such identification some schools have begun their own investigations. Ofsted has announced a review of schools and colleges to consider whether appropriate safeguarding processes are in place.

IICSA has already looked at the issue of abuse in schools and no doubt will include consideration of the same issues which are highlighted on the Everyone’s Invited website in its final report. However, whereas much of the focus of IICSA has been on issues of sexual abuse over a long period of time, the testimonials submitted to Everyone’s Invited highlight generally more recent abusive behaviour, fuelled often by the use of mobile phones and social media. This was of course something IICSA has considered in its Internet Investigation report. It is also an issue which the long awaited Online Harms legislation is meant to tackle.

Everyone’s Invited not only highlights the problem of culture and attitudes today but also raises a number of issues which will we consider in a series of blogs. For organisations and their insurers will they face claims due to matters which have been reported? If so what should be done now to investigate. What about employment obligations when there are allegations made against members of staff? What about data protection and defamation? What should the social media companies be doing?

Tomorrow we will consider some of the immediate themes and actions being taken.

Written by Paula Jefferson at BLM paula.jefferson@blmlaw.com

First prosecutions brought in Northern Ireland child sexual abuse claims in Fermanagh

In previous blogs we have highlighted the work of the Fermanagh newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, and its coverage of abuse reports in that area and the creation of a new police task force to re-examine older complaints and investigate recent reports of historic abuse.

Last week, the first prosecution came before the courts arising from a series of historical child sexual abuse claims in Co Fermanagh.

An 86 year old former businessman appeared before Enniskillen Magistrates Court to be returned for trial in the Crown Court in relation to five alleged charges of indecent assault. He is alleged to have indecently assaulted two males in the 1980s. Written statements of evidence and documents have been served by the prosecution for the committal hearing.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has arrested a significant number of people, thought to be in excess of 12 in connection with what are believed to be unconnected allegations of historical sexual abuse in Co Fermanagh. Those arrested came from a number of counties including Fermanagh, Antrim and Derry.

This is just another step in an ongoing PSNI investigation, which has taken place over the last 18 months after the reports by the Impartial Reporter.

It is understood that the PSNI is due to send on other files to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland to be considered in terms

Written by Katrina Gray at BLM katrina.gray@blmlaw.com

Safeguarding concerns and British Judo

British Judo made headlines recently as the BBC reported on the arrests of coaching staff for sexual offences and also disclosed details of an independent safeguarding review of the British Judo Association’s Safeguarding processes in 2019/2020.

It is reported that the arrests include a coach who was arrested for allegations of engaging in sexual communications with a child and a separate coach was arrested for allegations of voyeurism at a place of work after placing a camera in female toilets. Both incidents occurred in 2019.

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