The intention of this Open Letter is to hold the school accountable for the rape culture that is perpetuated at KEGS. We demand real, substantial change. If either the contents of the 80+ testimonies on this website or the Letter resonate with you, we encourage you to add your signature.
UPDATE: The Open Letter was sent directly to KEGS with 600+ signatures on Monday 29/03/2021. KEGS’ initial response can be found below.
KEGS’ Initial Response
“We are extremely saddened and horrified by the content of these testimonies. It is totally unacceptable that misogyny, harassment and abuse in any form take place – and it is also not sufficient for anyone to be a bystander on these issues.
As a school we are committed to doing everything we can to change these appalling attitudes and contribute to making society a better place.
We will be involving current and former pupils as well as parents and staff in this process.
We would encourage anyone who believes that they have been the victim of a criminal act to go to the police if they have not already done so.“
Dear Governors, Heads and staff at KEGS,
It is in unfortunate circumstances that we write this letter. In light of recent events regarding the death of Sarah Everard, while struggling to articulate the sadness and anger of the situation, we have been reflecting on the culture that exists in this country, specifically a culture that enables rape and gender-based violence. What happened to Sarah is a symptom of this. It is most poignant that this news met us following International Women’s Day, this year’s theme being: “Choose to Challenge”. In collective grief, we have collective responsibility. We choose to challenge this culture.
Rape culture is comprised of the beliefs and social attitudes about gender and sex that are reinforced by experience of gender inequalities and oppression, including misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape. Ultimately this creates an environment which serves to normalise and trivialise sexual violence. It also teaches victims to internalise violating acts as something that could have been prevented and teaches them self-guilt. Rape culture and gender-based violence are pervasive and endemic issues. We would also argue that, from our own experiences and from the experience of peers outside this collective, this culture thrives in elite boys’ schools.
The following letter therefore concerns the perpetuation of rape culture and gender-based violence in King Edward VI Grammar School. Over the past week we have compiled anonymous testimonies from victims of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape, all of which you can view on the website https://kegssurvivors.com/; this will frequently be updated. Please read them all. While many attest to incidents taking place outside of school property, others, more shockingly, take place on site. The staff owe a duty of care to safeguard victim’s wellbeing after the fact but also owe a commitment to preventing these intolerable events. We are strong believers that tackling this issue begins with education – learning and often unlearning – which we’re sure you will agree with. We are writing this as KEGS alumni who believe that collective action, education and training is necessary at KEGS to address this culture. To continue to ignore this serious issue is to be complicit.
In order to address gender-based violence and safeguard the rights and well-being of all young people, we implore you to do the following:
Reform Sex Education
In line with government guidance applies to all schools, Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) should be fully integrated in the curriculum from year 7 extending to years 12 and 13 (gov.uk, Relationships and Sex Education, Secondary, July 2020). From many of the testimonies and our own experiences, RSE was near non-existent and consent was not a topic of discussion. This is very unsettling since students enter sixth form around the legal age of consent. We think it is vital to have these conversations from year 7, the first instances in which some boys may engage in inappropriate behaviour. Reforming RSE will improve the boy’s relationship with girls in sixth form but also their relationships with each other throughout school. They will learn what boundaries are and be able to articulate to each other their respective personal boundaries.
- RSE should be mandatory and consistent throughout school including sixth form.
- It should be delivered in an age-appropriate way to all year groups and not just as one lesson per year but integrated into relevant PSHE lessons.
- Emphasise consent and widen the taught curriculum to address issues such as rape culture and violence against women and girls (VAWG), as well as online abuse:
- “Grooming, sexual exploitation and domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour, should also be addressed sensitively and clearly”, (gov.uk, July 2020).
- Foster safe spaces to talk about sex and relationships. Where this becomes tabooised or deemed “inappropriate” sex becomes a topic of humour, trivialising and conflating healthy, unhealthy, consensual or non-consensual activities.
- Destigmatise conversations on sexual assault with up-to-date information about statistics and resources.
- “Pupils may also need support to recognise when relationships (including family relationships) are unhealthy or abusive (including the unacceptability of neglect, emotional, sexual and physical abuse and violence, including honour-based violence and forced marriage) and strategies to manage this or access support for oneself or others at risk”, (gov.uk, July 2020).
- Education should include information about online behaviour, image and information sharing (e.g. ‘sexting’, youth-produced sexual imagery, nudes and unhealthy pornography consumption). With regards to nudes (especially revenge porn), the focus should be on the law, with a refrain from victim blaming and a sensitivity to this.
- Education on “how stereotypes, in particular stereotypes based on sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability, can cause damage (for example, how they might normalise non-consensual behaviour or encourage prejudice)”, (gov.uk, July 2020).
- RSE should include active-bystander training for students to encourage those in the KEGS community to work together as a collective advocating for the safety and wellbeing of their peers.
- RSE should be delivered in small groups to facilitate open conversation, questions, and maximum participation. Students should be encouraged to actively engage with the content rather than be on the receiving end of a lecture.
- We also feel there is a gross lack of consistent and long-term education on the following issues:
- Sexuality and homosexual sex-education; gender identity; STIs/STDs; fertility; pregnancy; contraception; abortion; access to further advice on sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment.
Work with Sex Education Organisations
- Create and nurture relationships with local sex-education organisations that offer workshops and support from trained volunteers.
- We recommend organisations such as School of Sexuality Education & Bold Voices who provide up to date & inclusive sex and relationships education programmes, teacher training and workshops that are intersectional, feminist, non-binary and sex positive.
Implement a Zero-Tolerance Policy
- Develop a rigid zero-tolerance policy for misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape.
- There should be clear disciplinary proceedings that are upheld without exception.
Support victims unequivocally
- Victims should be treated as such, without any shaming or blaming or dissuading from further speaking up.
- Those who choose to report incidents of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape should be taken seriously and supported through a clearly structured process.
- Staff should protect these individuals from further risk, harm or vulnerability upon first instance.
- Where an incident in reported, explicitly or implied, clear signposting should be given to the victim, especially where that member of staff is unable to provide further support.
- Hire specific and trained members of staff to support victims of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape.
- Victims of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse, assault and rape should not have to compromise their participation in school life (social areas, eating lunch, access to spaces in free sessions, school events) because of the perpetrator’s occupation/participation.
- Where an incident has occurred, staff have a duty to fully investigate for the future safeguarding and wellbeing of the victim. In the meantime the accused should be appropriately isolated, to protect themselves and the victim, until a thorough investigation has completed, from which appropriate action can be taken in line with the zero-tolerance policy.
- Make support accessible in and outside of the school environment.
Reconsider the Sixth Form Ratio
- While KEGS is an all-boys Grammar School, it seems unfair to limit the number of girls accepted into sixth form for them to be subjected to a hostile environment of rape culture as a minority. Navigating the school environment as an external student is isolating enough but it seems unsurprising the kinds of harassment and abuses faced by mainly girls in the sixth form by the male majority. Making this a more equal ratio would certainly alleviate the feelings of isolation and discrimination against girls.
Ultimately, what we want is for our voices to be heard, as they were so often diminished. We want accountability for your failure to provide a duty of care to so many students, boys and girls alike. And we want change, because while we can hope to move on from our experiences of rape culture and gender violence at KEGS, it is your responsibility to protect every single child that comes into your care in that institution from this point forward.
With utmost regret and sincerity,
[Signatures of KEGS Survivors and Supporters]
Link to the Open Letter’s Signature Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc6-dbU2uMlMRG_XXRe4BigVSpPR0F3ZufP0TShdxIonaMRXw/viewform