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Ex-appeal court judge to lead review into Highgate School ‘rape culture’ claims

Year 11, 12 and 13 pupils of both genders leave classes in protest over "rape culture"

25 March, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

More than 200 accounts of assault, abuse and sexism have now been posted online

GOVERNORS at Highgate School have appointed a former appeal court judge to lead a probe into claims of a ‘rape culture’ and sexual assaults between pupils at the school – on the day pupils walked out of lessons in protest.

Teenagers in years 11, 12 and 13 left classes and made speeches outside the school in North Road, Highgate Village, as they campaigned against a culture of sexual assault between pupils not being taken seriously.

More than 200 accounts are now online of assault, rape and incidents at the private school. A dossier containing 170 was sent to governors earlier in the week detailing testimonies.

The students at Highgate do not claim they have been attacked by teachers and the incidents relate to interaction between teenagers, described as “peer-on-peer violence”.

The school’s governing body has launched an independent review of complaints and appointed Dame Anne Rafferty – a privy council member who spent decades as  a High Court judge –  to lead it. Governors have called for people to come forward with their stories.

A spokeswoman for the school said: “We are fortunate to draw upon Dame Anne’s experience as a Lady Justice of Appeal as well as her years as a high court Judge and as chancellor at the University of Sheffield.”

In the dossier containing examples of abuse, one pupil said: “I have to walk around school seeing the guy who raped me every single day and pretend nothing happened.” Others include occasions where girls had been drunk at parties and unable to consent.

According to a spokeswoman for Highgate School, organisers of the demonstration today (Thursday) held it to show solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. Staff were invited to wear red in solidarity with pupils.


SEE ALSO SCHOOL NEEDS ‘SYSTEMATIC CHANGE’ AS PUPILS COMPILE RAPE CULTURE DOSSIER


Yesterday (Wednesday), headteacher Adam Pettitt said: “I want to apologise to the girls and women at Highgate for the ways you have been made to suffer. I am truly sorry. Safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school. Our commitment to action has to be real and deep.

“We recognise the urgent need for systemic change.”

In response to one claim that a pupil was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement, a school spokeswoman denied it was the case and said it would be “wholly inappropriate” to do so.

In a statement, the school’s governing body said it was “deeply shocked and horrified” by the allegations and encouraged people to come forward with their complaints.

“The Highgate they describe runs entirely contrary to the values of our whole community and we echo what our head, Adam Pettitt, has already said in apologising to any victim of sexual harassment or abuse who was not properly supported during their time at Highgate. We are truly sorry.

“The governing body has commissioned an immediate external review of the allegations led by a team of professionals with expertise in this field. The review will transparently scrutinise exactly what took place. We will make public its findings when they are available, and we are committed to taking whatever action is required to achieve the necessary culture change at Highgate.

“We have reassured our parents and carers that safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school.

“We are encouraging all of our pupils, past and present, who wish to share their experiences, or to give feedback anonymously, to contribute to the review. Their voices will be heard. We also fully support and commend the actions of our pupils today, standing in solidarity with all victims of sexual harassment or abuse.”

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