Parents should take their son to the police if they are responsible for a sexual assault, a senior police officer has said.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey has predicted that a “significant number” of sexual abuse reports are likely to come in from across the education sector, adding that the issue is not exclusive to private schools.
Mr Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, has suggested some schools may have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputation.
His comments follow a series of allegations of a “rape culture” at a number of independent schools.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for an inquiry into the allegations of sexual offences in schools that have come to light over recent days.
Thousands of testimonies have been made on the Everyone’s Invited website – a site where people can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
Mr Bailey is calling on parents to report any abuse to the police, including when their own child is the perpetrator of the offence.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If parents are aware that their son or their daughter has been a victim of abuse, then please come forward and report the abuse, your son or daughter, their account will be believed and we will deal with it appropriately.
“If, as a parent, you are aware that your son has been responsible for a sexual assault then I think you should again be taking your son to the police and saying ‘Look, I’ve now become aware that this is what my son has done’.”
Parents and schools should educate children about pornography and the unrealistic messages that it can portray about relationships, he added.
Mr Bailey said: “I think there is a real issue for society, I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind about that whatsoever, and there is a real issue, I believe, in what children now see and view as healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships and what is permissible and what is acceptable.
“And unfortunately I think the ready and easy access to pornography is a driver to that, the sexualisation of women is a driver to that, and unfortunately a culture has grown over recent years whereby in the minds of some people it is acceptable to treat young women in particular in a manner we are now seeing disclosed on the website.”
He added: “I think parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children, both their sons and daughters, recognise and understand what good values are, what respect and trust and honesty are, how to treat people, and I think they should be educating them to also have that difficult conversation around … inevitably viewing pornography.
“That is not real, that is not a relationship in any way, shape or form, and in exactly the same way, the school sector, I think, should be reinforcing those points.”
Mr Bailey is the lead officer for Operation Hydrant – which was established in 2014 to deliver the national policing response, oversight, and co-ordination of non-recent child sexual abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence or in within institutional settings.
During a campaign visit to Milton Keynes on Monday, Sir Keir called for a cultural change in attitudes towards women and girls, adding that boys need to be taught about “respect”.
He told reporters: “I’m really worried about what we are seeing over recent days, and I know many parents will be, many school teachers and staff and, of course, young people.
“There’s got to be an inquiry and it has got to get going very fast; this is serious.”
In a first-person piece in The Times, Soma Sara, founder of the Everyone’s Invited website, said it is clear that “rape culture is endemic”.
She said: “It’s in all parts of society including all universities and all schools. Seeing this long-overdue discussion being narrowed down to private schools is disappointing.”
Ms Soma said there has been a 33% increase in testimonies from the state sector and a 44% increase in testimonies from universities since March 9.
On the allegations, Mr Bailey added: “The website has already received, I think it’s now over 7,000 testimonies have been posted, and those numbers are growing exponentially… So I think it’s reasonable to predict there is going to be a significant number of reports that are going to come into the system.”
He said: “It’s predictable and it’s a reasonable assumption that in some cases, and hopefully it’s only just a few, but in some cases schools will have made the decision just to deal with the allegations internally rather than reporting them when they actually should have done.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools and colleges work very hard to ensure that children and young people are able to learn in a safe environment and to prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment.
“In both the state and independent sectors, they follow guidance from the Department for Education, which was drawn up with input from school and college leaders, on how to manage and prevent incidents.
“This highlights the importance of making it clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment are not acceptable, will never be tolerated and are not an inevitable part of growing up.”
He added: “The fight against sexual violence and sexual harassment is ongoing and far from won, but schools and colleges are very much focused on tackling and preventing this abhorrent behaviour.”
Minister for sport and tourism Nigel Huddleston said there is a new helpline for young people who have faced abuse in schools.
He told Sky News: “But we will be looking at this, and of course Ofsted and the inspectorate do have powers up to and including closing down schools if there’s evidence there, so we will again be looking very closely at this.
“It’s quite (an) alarming picture that’s been emerging over the last few days.”