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March 30, 2021

Should a parent shop their child to the police for sexual assault?

On Monday Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the police chiefs’ lead for child protection, encouraged parents to report sexual assaults their children had suffered and those their sons had perpetrated. The police are setting up a helpline so those teenagers who have experience of misogyny and abuse can report the incidents to the police.

It’s not clear that a parent would even know their teenager had sexually assaulted another teenager (would the boy understand themselves?), nor that many would shop their child to the police. Few of the interviewees on Woman’s Hour on Monday thought this would a good response to the Everyone’s Invited moment. The police are doing their best, and cannot help unless crime is reported to them, but police enforcement and prosecution is not the point of the movement. Everyone’s Invited is a website where anyone (though its overwhelmingly girl teenagers) can share their experience of misogyny or worse. All the accounts are anonymous though particular schools have been mentioned, many of which are boys’ private schools. The site is there to provide a forum for downloading and sharing, and to highlight the problem of “rape culture”, particularly amongst teenage boys.

Some of the posters are angry that they reported serious incidents to their or the perpetrators’ school, and nothing or very little happened. They, like most victims, wanted to be listened to, to have their pain acknowledged and to have something done to prevent future victimisation. I have found only a handful on the site who reported incidents to the police, and none who are negative about the police response.

Of course serious sexual assault should be reported, but the most effective response to the hundreds of terrible stories on the site and dossiers gathered about individual schools would be cultural change rather than police involvement and criminalisation. “Rape culture” is just that – a culture amongst teenagers and young people, learnt from adults and porn. And the spirit of Everyone’s Invited is about culture change and restorative justice, not criminal justice: “We urge our community to practice empathy. To reconcile is to understand both sides to listen, and try our best to understand people’s experiences, thoughts and actions. Reconciliation does not mean to “forgive and forget” but to “forgive and go forward”. Together we are  building on the mistakes of the past and working towards reconciliation and creating a new future”. The movement is about using testimony to prompt culture change, not targeting individuals. Soma Sara, the founder, writes: “When we direct the blame onto a person or place we are undermining an important message: rape culture is everywhere”. There is no manifesto but the movement does call for schools to provide better sex education, increase female representation, and to take incidents, and the wider problem, more seriously. They want cultural change, not individual prosecutions.

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