The Mail on Sunday
I’m a victim of school ‘rape culture’ witch-hunt
It began with a fallout between friends – then the anonymous accusations started on Instagram. First a drip, then a torrent of ever wilder claims. Now David, who swears he’s done nothing wrong, has been told to stay home by his illustrious private school, is being investigated by police... and fears his dream of winning a place at Cambridge next year lies in ruins
ATEENAGE schoolboy today reveals how a torrent of anonymous, false claims that he is a sexual predator have turned his life into a nightmare. The stress caused by the allegations has led the 18-year-old, a pupil at one of Britain’s leading private schools, to seek psychiatric help, while his family have been terrorised by death threats.
The boy also fears the claims made online could wreak long-term damage to his prospects, as his hopes of studying at Cambridge University now hang by a thread.
His ordeal began when allegations that he had spiked drinks and forced himself on women appeared on Instagram. He angrily denies any inappropriate behaviour and believes the claims were maliciously fabricated by a former friend following a fallout.
Yet in an increasingly febrile atmosphere that has seen more than 14,000 anonymous claims of sexual attacks at schools posted on the Everyone’s Invited website – and one of Britain’s top police officers predicting a #MeToo moment in the world of education – the drip of allegations against the boy quickly became a deluge, including the suggestion that he was a rapist and on the Sex Offenders Register.
Despite his strenuous denials, the teenager – whom we will call David – has been ordered to study at home by his school, which has called in police to investigate the claims.
But neither teachers nor officers will tell the boy or his mother the exact details of the case against him, while officers have admitted to the shattered teenager that an investigation could take months.
Perhaps tellingly, the anonymous creator of the Instagram account where the initial claims were made last week quietly deleted it, but the
I have been treated like a criminal with no chance to defend myself
appalling impact on David will be far harder to remove.
‘I have been treated like a criminal from day one,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘I feel very strongly that women need to speak out if they are victims, but the way I have been treated is a witch-hunt.
‘I have not been given any chance to defend myself and my school has acted as if I’m guilty right from the start. It has felt as if they are so nervous about their reputation they are willing to risk my future to avoid being seen as rape apologists. How can it be that anonymous allegations posted on social media can threaten to ruin my life like this?’
David, who fears he will not now achieve the predicted As and A*s in his A-levels that he needs to get his place to study politics at Cambridge, has lost 11 lb in weight since the claims appeared, and has seen by a psychiatric nurse due to fears over his mental health.
Once outgoing, he now wears a mask in public for fear of being recognised in the street.
‘I’m much more nervous in public now, much more careful when I go outside,’ he said. ‘I’m always looking over my shoulder in case someone is coming for me.
‘I have spent every day for weeks waiting for the police to knock on the front door. In some ways, it would be a good thing. It would finally be an opportunity to speak for myself. For now, I feel completely trapped.’
Far from being a sex offender, David insists he has always tried to defend female friends subjected to sexist taunts and gropes. During his 16th birthday party at the family home, he ejected a male friend who had been pawing at a girl, and he last year gave evidence in court during a domestic abuse case after witnessing a man assaulting his partner in the street.
David’s ordeal began on Wednesday, March 17, when he noticed that he was losing hundreds of his Instagram followers. The posts made by his accuser were blocked to him, but a friend sent him screenshots which he read with mounting horror.
By that evening, a trickle of anonymous posts had escalated and a specific Instagram account, naming David and inviting testimonies, had been created. The similar style in which they were all written convinced David they were by the same person, but they were widely shared.
‘In some ways that was the most stressful moment,’ David recalled. ‘I watched it all go viral in real time and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t stop what was being written and I couldn’t respond. I was absolutely powerless.’
He soon began receiving personal abuse and threats. One chilling social-media message warned: ‘I’ve got people on to you. I know you’re a rapist.’
Friends who rallied around to post messages of support were branded ‘rape apologists’. Without p r o mpti n g , a n e x - g i r l f r i e n d defended David but was also shouted down by an online mob.
On the very day that David’s life was starting to fall apart, Everyone’s Invited – a website that collects testimonies of victims of sexual assault in education – hit the mainstream media with reports that Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, West London, had filed complaints of rape and harassment to the police following anonymous claims on the site.
Allegations posted on the site, established last June by campaigner Soma Sara, now involve scores of schools in the state and private sector across the country and have sparked an investigation by education watchdog Ofsted.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the national police spokesman on child protection, appeared to give credence to the claim’s truth last month when he predicted that a ‘ rape culture’ in schools would become the ‘next big child sexual abuse scandal to hit the country’.
Concern was, however, expressed about his comments, not least given the scandal over Operation Midland, the catastrophic Metropolitan Police investigation into bogus claims of child abuse by serial fantasist Carl Beech against high- profile figures i ncluding former Tory Cabinet Minister Lord Brittan and Lord Bramall, a former Chief of the Defence Staff.
A report by Sir Richard Henriques, a former High Court judge,
The school’s so nervous about its reputation, it will put my future at risk
s ubsequently condemned t he police for describing Beech’s claims as ‘ credible and t rue’ despite a singular lack of evidence. Beech was jailed for 18 years.
On the surge in school sex abuse claims, Lord Macdonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, has warned: ‘We may live to regret a headlong rush into criminalisation.’
And in an article for The Mail on Sunday last week, former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett wrote: ‘Is it wise for a Chief Constable to judge as fact the anonymous, as yet unproven, accounts of teenagers? Also, in effect, to endorse the shocking view of the website’s founder that there is a “rape culture” in British schools and colleges? I believe that it takes only a moment’s reflection to realise this might trigger unforeseen and dangerous consequences.’
For David, mob justice arrived in mere hours. The day after the claims were made, he found himself jeered in school corridors and ignored by friends in lessons.
By the time he arrived home, David’s mother could tell something was wrong. ‘He had barely eaten the day before and seemed extremely anxious,’ she said. ‘That night I cooked him his favourite meal but he didn’t have a bite and just took himself to bed.’
Naturally, she wondered if he was stressed about his exams and gently asked what was troubling him. When he finally showed her the social-media posts and threats, a chill ran down her spine.
‘He was in a complete state and seemed shell-shocked,’ she said. ‘What was particularly horrifying was that we discovered that even my ex-husband, who is estranged from the family, received personal threats. He rang me up and said he thought we might have to get out of the house.’
David’s mother phoned the school but got no reply. Then she called the police. Within hours, two officers arrived at the family home and were shown the posts.
To David’s dismay, they were dismissed as ‘cyberbullying’. When he expressed concern that the claims might be believed by the authorities, an officer said: ‘If we thought this was a problem, we would arrest you on the spot.’ The apparent indifference came despite their concern about David’s mental health, so serious that they called an ambulance. Paramedics advised the teenager to see a psychiatric nurse, which he did the following day. He returned home to find that the school had called to suggest that he remain at home for a few days for his own safety.
Online, however, the situation conti nued t o worsen. Dozens more social-media posts appeared and the number of followers of the hate-filled Instagram account grew to three f i g u r e s . Re q u e s t s to Instagram (owned by Facebook) by David’s friends and family to have the page removed went unanswered.
On Sunday, March 21, the school rang again, this time to say they had received allegations about David and he was not to return to school.
‘They said the police were i nvolved and they c o u l d n ’t tell me any more about the nature of the allegations or who had made them,’ his mother said. ‘ They s ai d David wasn’t being excluded or suspended but that he shouldn’t come to school while the matter was with the police. They tried to suggest that it was for his own wellbeing but that just felt like an excuse because they didn’t want him in. The tone completely changed.’
David’s absence from school only served to put the rumour mill into overdrive. Without any facts, gossip and conjecture thrived, including false reports that he had been arrested.
Starved of face-to-face teaching and fearful that the school’s offer of attending lessons via Zoom would only provide a fresh opportunity for his tormentors, deadlines for coursework slipped and David became increasingly worried that his teacher- assessed grades, introduced because of coronavirus, would fall short of what he needed for Cambridge.
Previously loyal school friends abandoned him, and others got in contact purely to interrogate him about the allegations.
A few have remained by his side. ‘ I ’ ve l earned who my t rue friends are and it would have been impossible to go through th this alone,’ he said. ‘Friends and fa family kept me going.’
A As David struggled to study, hi his mother found getting any cla clarity from the school or police eq equally frustrating.
D During a phone call on Monday, Ma March 22, an officer admitted tha that her son’s case was one of hundre dreds they were dealing with so it was likely to be months before a res resolution was found. ‘That was wh when I felt completely trapped,’ Dav David said. ‘I was powerless.’
H His mother said she got even less information from the school. ‘I w wrote four letters to the head t eacher ea t hat week but didn’t rec receive a reply,’ she added. ‘I tried call calling dozens of times but no one got back to me. When I did finally talk to someone, they just told me that it was being dealt with by the police and they couldn’t help.
‘It was utterly infuriating. David was not even allowed to know what had been alleged, let alone give his side of the story. There was a presumption of guilt on the part of the school right from the start and he was never given the opportunity to prove his innocence.’
To add insult to injury, a bill for David’s school fees landed on the doormat that same week. The school, which counts numerous academics, actors and musicians among its alumni, charges about £20,000 a year and says on its website it has a duty to safeguard and protect the welfare of all pupils.
Last week, the police informed David that they are interviewing
Staff told him not to come to class, but that only fuelled the rumour mill
There was a presumption of guilt right from the start – it’s infuriating
three people in connection with the allegations made against him – but will still not tell him what the precise claims are.
The family are now seeking legal advice on how to clear his name and about bringing a defamation case against the person who made the allegations.
‘ I don’t even know what the allegations are yet but I want to know and I want the chance to speak for myself,’ said David.
‘Right now, it seems that every girl thinks I’m a sexual predator. I’m aware a lot of people will never see me in the same light but I have to do whatever I can to clear my name. I just cannot believe that a series of anonymous allegations posted on social media by people trying to ruin my life can have this kind of impact.’
Despite his experience, David believes girls and women should be encouraged to come forward to the police to report allegations.
‘ I t shows how poorly t hese kinds of cases are dealt with that women have to resort to posting claims anonymously on a website,’ he said. ‘ These have been the worst weeks of my life. I just hope that some justice can prevail. I want to put it behind me and look forward to university and the rest of my life.’