Sexual abuse in the classroom

In September 2020, the Department for Education introduced a compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum for both primary and secondary schools and also universities.  However, teachers said they struggled to deal with classroom sexual abuse as they were not given any external training and did not feel adequate procedures were in place to properly deal with peer-on-peer sexual abuse. 

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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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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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