June 25, 2024

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Wimbledon private school is a ‘hotbed of sexual violence’, open letter to headmaster claims

King’s College School in Wimbledon

Jeff Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo

King’s College School in Wimbledon, southwest London – where the tuition fees are £20,000 a year – is the latest private school to become a target of ‘rape culture’ accusations after an open later has been circulated alleging that it is a ‘hotbed of sexual violence’.

The 11-page letter, written by Ava Vakil, who attended nearby Wimbledon High School between 2005-2019, was addressed to Andrew Halls, the headmaster at the school. It was published online featuring the testimonies of women she invited to share their experiences of ‘sexual violence or harassment’ while at King’s.

Vakil writes that ‘it was no secret amongst local schools that King’s has a problem’ and goes on to accuse male pupils of violent and drunken sexual assaults, groping and non-consensual touching, threatening rape and circulating nude photos of girls without their knowledge in group chats. Teachers are accused of ‘ignoring the problem’ of misogyny and blaming female pupils for ‘trying to distract the boys with short skirts’. Ms Vakil concludes by calling on Mr Hall to ‘publicly admit the extent of the problem’ which she claims is ‘systemic’ and improve safeguarding by supporting the ‘speaking out of harassment and abuse’.

Ava Vakil

Instagram: @avavakil

In the letter Vakil adds: ‘With a school like yours which produces many young people who go on to positions of large power and influence, I believe you have a duty to make sure that from a young age your students are taught to combat misogyny, not fuel it.’ King’s is the alma mater of musician Marcus Mumford, the late BBC Desert Island Discs broadcaster Roy Plomley and the MP Nadhim Zahawi, who is currently leading the vaccine roll out as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment.

A spokesperson for King’s said: ‘The testimonies published recently are deeply shocking and have had a profound impact on us all. The behaviour they describe has no place in our society and is expressly at odds with our school’s culture and ethos.

‘We have established a system to handle disclosures made by pupils, past or present, and to ensure that they can share their experiences in confidence, and we are supporting anyone who comes forward to us. King’s College School will listen to, learn from and act on these serious allegations.’

Allegations of a ‘rape culture’ among British schools have been highlighted by a campaign, Everyone’s Invited, that went viral this month.

Earlier this week, Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith reported allegations of sexual abuse to the police, according to the Times. The leading private school and the alma mater of highflyers from a range of industries, from Hugh Grant to Lily Cole, has been named more than any other school on Everyone’s Invited, a website created for students and other former pupils to report claims of sexual harassment.

Laymer Upper School in Hammersmith

Laurence Mackman / Alamy Stock Photo

The £20,000-a-year co-educational school has reported the allegations to the Metropolitan Police and Hammersmith and Fulham council. The allegations submitted anonymously through the website are then published to the site and via Instagram stories, crediting the school or university alone. A backlog of complaints are now saved as archived stories, alongside advice for anyone seeking help.

Accusations against pupils at Latymer Upper School include rape, sexual assault and encouraging underage girls to share naked photographs. One pupil claimed she was given detention after a boy coerced her into sending naked photographs when she was 12. In another report a girl alleged boys made ‘sexual comments’ to them in the classroom, compared nude photographs of them and ranked them on their face and bodies. According to the Daily Mail, pupils at Latymer said it was a ‘serious and ongoing problem’.

Lily Cole is part of the alumni that went to Latymer Upper School

Dave Benett / Getty Images for Mother of Pearl

The school said that it took ‘any report or allegation made by a member of our community extremely seriously’. It recently contacted students and alumni to offer support and its head teacher, David Goodhew, said that he was ‘troubled’ by the anonymous allegations. Other schools repetitively named on Everyone’s Invited include Eton and St Paul’s Boys School in Barnes, southwest London. In total, more than 3,000 allegations have been made against British schools on the campaign’s Instagram page.

Soma Sara

Instagram: @somasara

Everyone’s Invited was set up by 22-year-old Soma Sara, who went to Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire, a girls’ boarding school, and is now studying for an English MA at University College London. She started the viral campaign last summer with friends after she realised that she wasn’t the only one who had spent her teens being forced into sexually compromising situations. Via Everyone’s Invited, it’s not just secondary schools that are being called out, it’s universities too – and students have provided testimonials of their compromising experiences at Edinburgh, Exeter, Manchester and Newcastle Universities.

Of her time at boarding school, Sara said in an interview with the Times this weekend: ‘In the holidays I grew up in London social circles and sex was a palpable presence throughout my teens. Disgusting behaviour was trivialised. It could be sexual coercion, rape, catcalling, sexual bullying, stealthing [non-consensual condom removal], image-based abuse [revenge porn], victim blaming. Sexual abuse didn’t just exist, it thrived. It was rife.’

Sara emphasised in the interview that she doesn’t want to foster a cancel culture. She said: ‘I want to create something positive. I don’t want to single out a single individual or institution. Me Too singled out people like Harvey Weinstein, but that risks blaming it on a few high-powered men or industries. Everyone is complicit and we should all take responsibility.’

Last year Sara contacted senior figures at Eton after it became the subject of several allegations and she said that Simon Henderson, the head teacher, was ‘very receptive’. A spokeswoman for Eton College said: ‘Behaviour of this kind has no place in civilised society. Eton insists that all our pupils treat others with kindness, decency and respect. Specific allegations are always taken extremely seriously and we work closely with the relevant external authorities when necessary. We run workshops about healthy relationships and educate our pupils about consent. However, we must never be complacent and we are always seeking to learn what more we can do.’

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Sally-Anne Huang, the first female high master of St Paul’s and leader of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said that she was willing to refer boys to the police although she hadn’t yet because no names had been provided alongside the allegations.

A statement from Latymer Upper School, said it was ‘listening carefully to our community and reflecting on what further steps we should take’. It said: ‘All staff at the school complete regular safeguarding training and we take any report or allegation made by a member of our community extremely seriously. As well as our highly experienced pupil welfare officer, our school counsellors and designated safeguarding lead and form tutors, our students or alumni can speak with any teacher they feel comfortable talking with. We have also shared the details of charities, organisations and resources for anyone who might prefer to speak to someone outside the school.

‘We have a zero-tolerance approach to behaviours that foster the prevalence of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse and assault. Our curriculum has continued to evolve over recent years to keep pace with the issues that young people may be facing. Sexual harassment and abuse have no place at Latymer or in the wider world. Such behaviours are completely incompatible with Latymer’s values and contrary to our ethos of respect for others.’

A spokeswoman added: ‘When an allegation is reported to us we follow the appropriate processes, including referral to outside agencies, and work with our young people to ensure they feel empowered and supported.’

For more information or for advice seeking help, visit Everyone’s Invited

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