Sunday, March 28, 2021

'Predatory culture' - challenge to Dulwich College continues

Boys boarding school Dulwich College has been rocked in the last week by allegations of a culture of sexual abuse and harassment amongst its students, targeting in particular young women attending local schools with which the College has links, notably James Allen's Girls School (JAGS). A demonstration planned for last Friday by pupils from local schools with supportive Dulwich College dissidents was called off after the school's head emailed parents stating that pupils could be prosecuted for taking part. The protest had been called 'against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [which] condones it'.

An open letter to the school put together by a recent ex-Dulwich student included around 100 personal accounts, mainly from current or former JAGS pupils. The dossier includes cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment, as well as allegations of  homophobia and racism.

Although the protest did not go ahead on Friday, JAGS pupils staged a vigil and have put up posters on the railings outside the independent school on East Dulwich Grove.

'Not all men but all women'

'The behaviour of your students is not a reflection of their confidence, it is a testament to their entitlement, to their experience of an institution which has enabled their sexism, their racism, their homophobia and their abusive tendencies... At the heart of this attitude, one which leads so many of your students to believe themselves authorised to control other people’s bodies, is a sense of superiority and entitlement borne out of a discriminatory worldview'

'End rape culture'/'No means no'

'Your school is a breeding ground for sexual predators who are being released into the world, safe in the knowledge that they can be whatever they want, and do whoever they want. I am a woman in a world that is unkind to women, and the predators around me no longer wear uniforms marking them out as God’s gift (ex-JAGs student who left in 2019 -  Dulwich College was originally known as 'the College of God's Gift) 

Not all Dulwich College students, but... 'The submitted testimonials do not present a divide between the many and the few. They describe a community of abusers and their enablers, violently sexist boys whose behaviour is underpinned by a collective understanding that their comfort and status is worth more than the lives of those who fall prey to their abuse. In almost every story, experiences of assault, revenge pornography and slut shaming were exacerbated by the aggressor’s friends, young men who were not, in that instance, one of the “very few” but who enabled them, who laughed at stories of sexual violence, who shared illicit photos of teenage girls without consent, who stood by as their mates, the supposedly “very few”, ruined lives'.

'we do not want to use the term harassment, what is happening today is sexual terrorism'

'I have been sexually assaulted by boys from Dulwich College. My closest female friends have been raped. It started aged 14 when boys would rate us all out of 10, sitting in your classrooms on their phones. It continued with requests for underage nude selfies which when refused were followed with misogynist comments and when women complied these shared around illegally. Your teachers were aware of this but not enough was done. It continued to escalate as I got older, boys from your school would drug and intoxicate girls from local schools and proceeded to rape and assault them when they were under the influence. Where are these men now?... This HAS to stop. Teach your students how to treat women'.

'Throughout my 13 years at JAGS, my experience with Dulwich college boys were almost entirely negative. There is an extremely prevalent rape culture and violent culture at DC. This is present throughout Dulwich college but exacerbated amongst the sporting teams, particularly Rugby'

While Dulwich College has been the initial focus of this fast spreading movement against sexual abuse and harassment linked to schools, accounts of similar behaviours are emerging in relation to other schools in both the private and state sectors and are being collected by Everyone's Invited. I am sure young women in all kinds of education settings are having to deal with this day in day out and it doesn't help to single out just a few high profile schools and pretend everywhere else is fine. On the other hand saying something happens everywhere can lead down the slippery slope to saying nobody is responsible. 

The response in some schools is no doubt more positive than others in terms of how they challenge these attitudes and behaviours and how they deal with allegations. The accounts from the Dulwich College dossier do suggest that some matters were raised with senior leaders at both the College and JAGS with what the victims viewed as inadequate responses. The consequences may vary from school to school too - is an alleged offender less likely to be sanctioned when their wealthy parents have barristers at their disposal and the school is a multi-million pound business worried about its reputation? Though as the last week has shown, failing to deal with this can lead to a much worse PR disaster down the line - not great when one of your own pupils is quoted in a national newspaper saying that they 'woke up every day feeling shit about going to Dulwich College because it’s not a place that attracts or makes good people'.

And some places are no doubt worse than others. It is quite possible that the culture of how women are viewed and treated differs from school to school, and a segregated group of young men living apart from families and the community and told they are the creme de la creme of future leaders might well have a different sense of their boundaries and entitlements than others.

[All photos taken of outside of JAGS in East Dulwich Grove this weekend; all quotes in italics from open letter/dossier to Dulwich College. The full document is quite harrowing. I have not quoted detailed accounts of abuse, hopefully some of these will end up in court]

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