Following the publication of testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, harrowing reports in the media and student action in the Spring Term, Bedales students and staff began working on a process called ‘Dialogue for Change’.
As a school that prides itself on equality and on a strong student voice, it is so important that we ensure the many different opinions within the conversation of sexual violence and harassment are heard in a safe and honest space.
‘Dialogue for Change’ is our community response to the campaign. However, to ensure we move forward as a community with a clear direction – where all our voices are represented – we recognise that a slow, deliberate process of dialogue is required. Working on reconciliation and peace building, facilitating discussions of challenging and emotional topics, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak takes time, patience and bravery.
The process has been divided into four phases. We are currently in Phase 1, of sharing and listening to differing points of view with mutual acknowledgement. ‘Dialogue for Change’ has been discussed in assembly, students have received a questionnaire, with half of all students responding, and there have been opportunities for safe conversations in different groups and forums throughout this half of the term. Next week, students in Blocks 3 and 4 will have extended tutor times to explore two key topics – ‘just a joke’ and ‘the bystander effect’ – with similar sessions for Block 5 and 6.1 before half term.
This will lead us into Phase 2, where we will reflect on each other’s experience, and set up a working party to respond to the issues raised next academic year. In Phase 3, to be completed by the end of the Summer Term, we will consider what common goals and values we share and what immediate changes can be made. Finally, in Phase 4, we will work on building the confidence of each party so all feel they are being heard. This will be an exploratory phase of trying new things and building projects, ideas and solutions, and establishing how we take this forward into the next academic year.
We believe this is a unique opportunity for us to help facilitate genuine, open and honest dialogue amongst students, for them to find their voices and engage with such an important topic, and to help drive it forward into real positive change.
The following extract contains sensitive information on sexual assault and rape.
Over the past week in the UK there has been widespread reaction throughout society following the murder of Sarah Everard. Sarah was a 33-year-old marketing executive, who was kidnapped whilst walking home from her friend’s house in Clapham, South London. She was last seen on CCTV footage on 3 March, calling her boyfriend. Her body was found a week later in Kent, 60 miles from where she was last seen. She was kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered.
Sarah’s tragic story has inspired many victims of sexual assault to come forward with their testimonies. One online platform, Everyone’s Invited, has allowed victims from schools across the country to come forward anonymously with their experiences of sexual assault, including one testimony from a former Bedales student.
Everyone’s Invited was founded in June 2020 by a former Wycombe Abbey student, Soma Sara, after sharing her personal experience of rape culture via Instagram. Within a week she received and shared over 300 anonymous responses, reaching over 10,000 people. The website now has more than 4,100 testimonies, including accounts from girls as young as nine. Her website continues to share anonymous testimonies as well as advice for victims, and calls for reform of the education system to include more detail on consent. All information can be found at https://everyonesinvited.uk.
On Monday Bedales students came together as a community to discuss how we can support victims of any sexual assault, and how we can revisit our curriculum to reflect more accurately contemporary issues of widespread sexual violence in society. It was incredible to see so many students turn up who were willing to have an open conversation on an extremely difficult and stigmatised topic. Given that Bedales is an independent school, we have the ability to influence the way our wellbeing lessons and school curriculum work. We can give much more prominence to education about sexual misconduct and the complex issue of consent.
We want to work with Magnus and the staff to help develop the opportunities there are for education around consent and the varying laws on confidentiality followed by the staff who work at the school supporting students (house parents, counsellors, doctors, and teachers).
On Tuesday many students and staff wore red clothing to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault, an initiative taken up by other schools, and Art students are planning a mixed media exhibition to go in the Quad centred on the theme of sexual assault, which will merge written testimony with representation.
To all survivors of sexual assault: we see you, we hear you, we believe you, and we support you.