Ex-British private school student, 22, behind 'rape culture' website

Revealed: Ex-British private school student, 22, behind ‘rape culture’ website Everyone’s Invited co-founded movement from her grandmother’s Paris home with actor Paul Walker’s daughter – after sharing stories with pals of being abused and shamed

  • Soma Sara, 22, started the Everyone’s Invited movement with Meadow Walker, daughter of late actor Paul
  • Miss Sara went to exclusive private Catholic school in Hampstead then later University College London
  • They bonded on Instagram after she spoke about surviving abuse after watching BBC’s I May Destroy You

The former boarding school girl whose personal account of ‘rape culture’ has snowballed into a sex scandal engulfing Britain’s entire education sector launched her campaign from the bedroom of her grandmother’s home in Paris during lockdown, MailOnline can reveal today.

Soma Sara, 22, started the Everyone’s Invited movement with Meadow Walker, the daughter of late actor Paul Walker, after they bonded on Instagram when she spoke about surviving abuse after watching BBC drama I May Destroy You last June.

The campaigner lives in France but was educated at an exclusive private Catholic school in Hampstead before boarding at Wycombe Abbey School in Buckinghamshire then completing an English master’s degree at University College London last year.

Miss Sara’s campaign claiming ‘rape culture is everywhere’ has engulfed thousands of UK schools and universities but also gained huge traction from all over the world, especially in the United States, with Miss Walker running the project across the Atlantic.

Fast and Furious actor Mr Walker was killed in a car crash in 2013, leaving behind his daughter Meadow, then 15. 

Now 22, Meadow, runs the global foundation in her famous father’s name and is now using her Instagram account with 2.5million followers to support teenagers who suffered sexual abuse in schools and universities as a co-founder and trustee of Everyone’s Invited, which is run by volunteers.

Miss Sara – who has previously said she is half Chinese and has an American grandmother – started the campaign after she and some friends discussed their stories of being abused, shamed and teased by boys.

She claimed their experiences were ‘characterised by an endemic rape culture’ and that ‘misogyny and sexism was the bedrock’. 

Created last year, contributions to the Everyone’s Invited website have surged since the murder of Sarah Everard from South London earlier this month. 

Although hundreds of prestigious private schools have been named and shamed, many other women have also used the platform to reveal their ordeals within the state education system, at university or the family home. 

Soma Sara’s campaign claiming ‘rape culture is everywhere’ has engulfed thousands of UK schools and universities 

Within a week she had received and shared more than 300 anonymous responses of people with stories of ‘misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault’, and thousands more have followed, predominantly from girls but also from boys.

These include harrowing tales of children as young as 11 being forced to share explicit images, later being shared to shame them over messaging platforms, and teenagers describing being drugged and raped at parties.

Incidents involving boys from more than 100 schools have been collated, including some attending elite fee-paying ones such as Sherborne, Westminster and Eton – where Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William studied. 

Today British police said they have received ‘more than 7,000’ testimonies from pupils, and growing claims Britain’s top schools have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations. 

Describing her extraordinary journey Miss Soma told The Times after describing her own experiences at school in Britain the response was ‘overwhelming’.

She said: ‘In the holidays I grew up in London social circles and sex was a palpable presence throughout my teens. Disgusting behaviour was trivialised. 

Meadow Walker, the daughter of late actor Paul Walker, runs the global foundation in her famous father’s name

‘It could be sexual coercion, rape, catcalling, sexual bullying, stealthing [non-consensual condom removal], image-based abuse [revenge porn], victim blaming. Sexual abuse didn’t just exist, it thrived. It was rife.’ 

Her campaign has gone global, with Meadow Walker becoming part of the team, and expanding its influence to the United States where she has 2.5million followers on Instagram.  

She claims that online porn and poor standards of sex education are to blame – but Miss Sara says girls are also guilty.

She said: ‘The slut-shaming, jealousy, competition. We are all guilty to some extent. We have this weird culture now where we post pictures of ourselves and want to be liked like the Kardashians. Social media gives us this impossible body image that creates insecurity and eating disorders and never feeling perfect enough’. 

‘When we narrow our focus on a school, a demographic, or as an individual, we risk making these cases seem like anomalies. But this isn’t rare, it happens all the time,’ she wrote in Friday’s i newspaper.

‘When we direct the blame onto a person or place we are undermining the most important message: rape culture is everywhere. And because it’s everywhere it affects everyone.’

Meadow Walker is the daughter of Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker. They are pictured together when she was a child

Today Britain’s most senior child protection officer urged parents who suspect their sons have committed sexual abuse to hand them over after he said police have received ‘more than 7,000’ testimonies from pupils at schools.

Simon Bailey, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on child protection, speculated that the growing school sex scandal has been fuelled by online pornography and the sexualisation of women. 

The father-of-two Norfolk chief constable, 56, also suggested some schools may have covered up allegations of sexual abuse, and is expecting to see further reports of abuse at universities and state and private schools.

More than 100 schools have been named in thousands of harrowing anonymous testimonies on a website set up by former private school pupil Soma Sara, 22, to expose misogyny, harassment and assaults in schools.

There have even been allegations of a ‘rape culture’ at some institutions, sparking a major Whitehall investigation into the scandal that has seen some of Britain’s most elite schools named in accounts of sexual abuse.

Schools named on the Everyone’s Invited website include Eton College, St Paul’s School, Dulwich College, Westminster School and Highgate School.  

Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker, who played Brian O’Conner in the franchise died in a car crash in November 2013

Sir Keir Starmer and Robert Halfon, Tory chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, have called for an inquiry into allegations of sexual offences in schools.  

Nigel Huddleston, the minister for sport and tourism, said there is a new helpline for young people who have faced abuse in schools, telling Sky News: ‘It’s quite [an] alarming picture that’s been emerging over the last few days’.  

And David Lammy, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, urged more regulation of online pornography, telling Times Radio that ‘urgent action’ is needed because ‘young people need to feel safe in our schools’.  

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the chief constable said he did not have ‘any doubt’ that the ‘sexualisation of women’ is a ‘driver’ in the shock disclosure of alleged abuse in schools across the country.

He warned that ‘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 that we are now seeing’ reported on Everyone’s Invited. 

Asked how parents should be responding, Mr Bailey told the Today programme: ‘If parents are aware that their son or their daughter has been a victim of abuse, please come forward and report the abuse. Your son or daughter, their account will be believed and we will deal with it appropriately. 

A placard is seen attached to the fence outside the James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London. Pupils have protested against alleged ‘rape culture’ at Dulwich College boys

‘If as a parent you are aware 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”. 

When it was put to him if he had concerns that schools may have covered up allegations for reputational reasons, Mr Bailey said: ‘I don’t have any evidence for that at the moment, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption. 

Simon Bailey (pictured), who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council on child protection, predicted a tsunami of allegations from state and private schools as well as universities

‘It’s predictable and it’s a reasonable assumption that in some cases, and hopefully it’s 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.

‘What I’m anticipating is as there is greater focus on this issue, we’ll start to see reports of abuse, of current abuse, of non-recent abuse, in the university sector, in the state sector and in the private sector as well. 

‘It’s not something that’s exclusive only to the private schools.’

Mr Bailey is the lead officer for Operation Hydrant – which was established in 2014 to deliver the national policing response, oversight, and coordination of non-recent child sexual abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence or in within institutional settings.

Responding to Mr Bailey’s suggestions that some schools may have covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations, Sir Keir Starmer said boys needed to be taught about ‘respect for girls and women’.

He also said there needed to be an inquiry into allegations of sexual offences in schools and called for a cultural change in the attitudes towards women. 

‘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,’ he told reporters.

Simon Bailey: Father-of-two chief constable who is urging parents to ‘shop their sons’

Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey

Simon Bailey has been a police officer for 29 years, serving predominantly as a detective in King’s Lynn and Norwich. He will retire on June 30 this year. 

In 1998 he was seconded to the National Crime Squad and managed covert operations targeting serious and organised crime gangs.

In 2000 Mr Bailey was seconded to the Rosemary Nelson murder investigation based in Northern Ireland. 

He worked for three years on the investigation before he returned to Norfolk as a Detective Superintendent with responsibility for intelligence.

In December 2005, Mr Bailey was promoted to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent and as Head of Crime he managed the Force Specialist Crime and Operations resources.

In 2007, he was appointed to lead the Force Modernisation Programme and whilst successfully leading this programme he passed the Police National Assessment Centre and between October 2008 and February 2009 attended the Police National Strategic Command Course.

In September 2010, Mr Bailey was promoted to Deputy Chief Constable with responsibility for Legal Services, Human Resources, Force Performance and the Norfolk Policing Model Review.

On June 10, 2013, Mr Bailey was temporarily promoted to the rank of Temporary Chief Constable and on the 19 September 2013 was appointed Chief Constable by the Police and Crime Panel. In January 2014 he became the NPCC lead for Child Protection and Investigation.

Away from policing, Mr Bailey was part of a packed Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon in 1993 where he saw his brother Chris lose a five-set second round match to Goran Ivanisevic. 

Mr Bailey was educated at Wymondham College and Norwich City College and has a Cambridge University Master’s Degree in Criminology and Police Management. He is married with two children and three grandchildren. 

‘There’s got to be an inquiry and it has got to get going very fast, this is serious.

‘There is of course a criminal investigation and I would encourage anybody who can to come forward and give evidence in that investigation, come forward and say what has been happening.’

Sir Keir added: ‘There’s a wider issue here – because we have seen this in other institutions, in other areas – and there needs to be not just grip, but cultural change as well.

‘Cultural change in terms of behaviour in our schools and in our young people, but also in the respect that is shown particularly for women and girls.’

Labour’s shadow justice secretary said the scandal is ‘really worrying’ and ‘needs urgent action’. Mr Lammy pointed towards the claims of many people, particularly young women coming forward, who have said they have been harassed.

He told Times Radio: ‘I suspect this sits alongside the concerns that many have raised about the prolific nature of porn and young people getting access to porn.’

Mr Lammy added: ‘It needs urgent action. This is about child safeguarding. (It is ) really really worrying to see top schools named in this way.

‘Some of it does sound like crime. Schools should be taking that seriously and contacting police and children’s services where it comes up.

‘Some of it feels like harassment and so some of this is about public education. Schools should be well placed to deal with that. There have been calls about how we are dealing with sex education in our schools.’

He also urged more regulation, telling the programme: ‘We need an online harms bill. We are still waiting for it. It hasn’t come forward. Why is there a delay on something that is so serious?’

A Department for Education source told the Telegraph that it will take action if schools do not meet the strict safeguarding standards including closing them down.

‘If it becomes clear that there are current failings in any school’s safeguarding practice, we will immediately ask Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate to conduct an inspection,’ they added. 

Mr Bailey has also predicted a tsunami of allegations from state and private schools as well as universities, telling the Telegraph: ‘I think that this is the tip of the iceberg.

‘If you look at the number of testimonies that are now being recorded on the site and you look at the fact that it is now being revealed that it is a much broader problem than just the private school sector. 

‘I am envisaging referrals coming in from both the private sector, the mainstream state school sector and universities.’

Describing the scale of the investigation, he added: ‘I believe that in excess of 7,000 people have now put testimonies up online and there are lots and lots of victims that will now be thinking about what has happened to them and having conversations with their parents and others about what to do next.’ 

A national helpline – due to be set up as early as today for victims to report abuse – will lead to thousands of referrals to police forces across the UK, Mr Bailey predicted. 

Yesterday Mr Bailey, the Norfolk Police chief constable, revealed he is in talks with the Department for Education and the Home Office about a national police response led by Operation Hydrant, the hub established to coordinate investigations into non-recent child abuse.  

He believes the number of youngsters who come forward could dwarf the Jimmy Savile scandal and even the number of victims in the Football Association abuse probe – which saw more than 2,800 police referrals and 692 young players identified.

He said: ‘I think it is the next big child sexual abuse scandal to hit the country. It will go right across the whole of the education sector – private schools, state schools and universities.’

Mr Bailey said many of the perpetrators may now be at university or in employment. ‘I think we are now going to be faced with very recent and ongoing allegations, there will be non-recent allegations and then there will be allegations that might go back many, many years,’ he added. 

‘[To victims] I would say come forward, have the confidence that you will be believed and please report your views because your abuser might still be abusing.’ 

Mr Bailey, who leads Operation Hydrant, also urged parents to take responsibility yesterday, suggesting some families have failed to keep tabs on teenagers. 

Headmaster of £21,600-per-year Highgate School ‘put PR before the pupils’ 

By JACK WRIGHT FOR MAILONLINE 

The headmaster of £21,600-per-year Highgate School  has been accused of putting the school’s ‘image’ ahead of alleged victims of abuse. 

Adam Pettitt, who arrived as head teacher at Highgate School in 2006, has driven an ambitious rejuvenation project, turning the London school into one of the most sought-after ‘destination schools’ in the country. 

But current and former pupils have accused Mr Pettitt of ‘disregarding and leaving its pupils in the dark’. 

Governors at the school have been sent a 230-strong dossier of rape culture allegations which claimed that Highgate ‘silenced’ alleged victims who came forward.  

According to the Times, one pupil wrote: ‘This school has become obsessed with its image, making money and its PR, and has disregarded and left its pupils in the dark.’

It also contained a claim an alleged sexual assault victim had been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement and was told by a staff member to consider ‘how legal ramifications for his [the alleged attacker’s] actions might hurt his feelings’. The school denied those claims to the Times.  

A representative for Highgate told the paper: ‘We have never used an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] with a pupil and believe it would be wholly inappropriate to do so. 

‘At Highgate, pupil well-being is at the heart of all our thinking. We appointed a director of wellbeing in February 2019, a consultant clinical psychologist working in child and adolescent mental health, who leads a team of counsellors and safeguarding officers. 

‘In 2020 we appointed a director of inclusion. Pupils are encouraged to actively engage on community issues and we have several working groups to help steer and drive initiatives across the school. 

‘There is clearly more work to do, which is why we’ve commissioned an immediate external review of the issues raised by the pupil testimonies to be led by Dame Anne Rafferty. 

‘The review will transparently scrutinise exactly what took place. We are committed to taking whatever action is required to achieve the necessary culture change at Highgate.’ 

MailOnline has contacted the school for comment. 

‘If you know that your son has been responsible for raping a girl then I think absolutely [the son] should be taken to the police. I think that is being a responsible parent,’ he said.

‘There will be, I’m sure, parents who will get disclosures from their children, who will then say, ‘Right we are going to the local police station’ which is absolutely the right thing to do.

‘What I am keen to do is to ensure that sexual predators that are currently in education are identified and are no longer able to abuse.’ 

The chief constable blamed the availability of pornography and sexualisation of women for what he believes is a systemic issue in the education system.

He said: ‘I think as a country we have a real societal problem in terms of blurring of the lines of what I think people understand to be healthy relationships and healthy sexual relationships. 

‘During lockdown there was a 20 per cent increase in the amount of pornography that was being consumed. I just think it’s been a watering down of acceptable boundaries.

‘I think parents absolutely have a responsibility to ensure that their children have the values that we would all see and recognise as being positive values in a relationship such as trust and respect.’ 

The police leader urged schools and governing bodies to ‘look in the mirror’, saying he does not believe that institutions had no idea of what was going on.

Mr Bailey also suggested the Home Office may need to consider extra funding if referrals through Operation Hydrant to police forces rocket. 

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.’

Detective Superintendent Mel Laremore, Scotland Yard’s lead for rape and sexual offences, said more than 100 schools have been named on a website set up to expose ‘misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault’.

She is now offering to send police into schools to teach boys about consent, with a warning that allegations of abuse will be investigated. 

Officials from the Home Office and Department for Education (DfE) are leading a cross-Government response with senior police officers, who are being urged to take claims of misogyny, harassment and abuse seriously. 

Whitehall sources told the Sunday Telegraph that inspectors from Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate will launch ‘immediate and surprise’ investigations at certain schools if safeguarding concerns are raised.

Pupils stage a protest against alleged rape culture at Highgate School in London on March 25

Scotland Yard, which launched an investigation on Friday after it received multiple reports of ‘misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault’, is now reviewing testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited site to see if any crimes have been committed, ahead of a dedicated helpline being set up in the next 72 hours. Every police force in the country will have to carry out investigations into school sex abuse.   

Ministers are expected to meet with officials in the coming weeks to discuss next steps, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

A source told the paper: ‘Where schools do not meet the strict safeguarding standards that we have in place, we will always take action.

‘If it becomes clear that there are current failings in any school’s safeguarding practice, we will immediately ask Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate to conduct an inspection. If a school is found to not be meeting the required safeguarding standard, we will make sure it either improves or closes.’

An Ofsted spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph it vowed to conduct ‘surprise’ inspections of schools where ‘safeguarding issues’ arise. 

Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, called for an independent inquiry after blasting senior school staff for being more worried about ‘woke’ issues than the ‘welfare of students’. 

One female demonstrator outside Highgate School held up a placard which read: ‘We stand strong, we stand tall and most importantly we stand together’

The Conservative MP said that countless stories had emerged of female pupils being ‘objectified, harassed and sexually assaulted’, with websites set up by students highlighting ‘a rape culture’.

Orlando Bloom’s alma mater asks police to investigate sexual misconduct claims ‘and suspends male pupil’

A private arts school where Orlando Bloom, Helena Bonham Carter and Brooklyn Beckham were educated is the latest to call in police over sex allegations.

Hampstead Fine Arts College, for pupils aged 13 to 19, has asked officers to investigate a claim of sexual misconduct against a male pupil after girls made a number of allegations to staff this month.

The college, where fees are £22,000 a year, has reportedly suspended a boy pending an investigation by the police and school authorities.

The college, which specialises in art, music and drama, has its main site in Belsize Park, north London. A spokesman told the Mail on Sunday: ‘We understand the police are investigating allegations of sexual misconduct off school premises made against a student.

‘The college takes reports of unacceptable behaviour extremely seriously and we have been guided by our safeguarding policy relating to such allegations, involving external agencies as appropriate.’

Other prestigious schools in London to have passed allegations on to police include Latymer Upper, Dulwich College and The London Oratory.

The flurry of allegations against various schools began on the Instagram site Everyone’s Invited.

Mr Halfon said senior staff had been ‘at best unable or at worst unwilling’ to deal with what had allegedly gone on. He welcomed an investigation by the Met Police but said an independent inquiry should be launched after the probe.

He said he feared the possibility that ‘a Lord of the Flies culture has engulfed respected private education institutions and spread to some state schools’.

‘Countless stories have emerged of female pupils being objectified, harassed and sexually assaulted,’ he added. ‘Websites set up by these students have highlighted ‘a rape culture’. ‘Moreover, it appears that senior school staff have been at best unable or at worst unwilling to deal with what has gone on.

‘It seems safeguarding in some of these schools has become more of a tick box exercise or a form of wokery, rather than genuinely looking after the welfare of students.’

Mr Halfon said that Ofsted should be responsible for safeguarding inspection of private schools and they must fund a national helpline so female students can report incidents confidentially and get help and advice.

He added: ‘Given that it looks that safeguarding has fallen short, there should be a fundamental review of school safeguarding and just one body responsible for safeguarding inspection of private schools – Ofsted – rather than the current system, which allows the independent sector to have its own inspection regime.

‘There must be a national helpline, funded by these schools, to ensure that when such abuse takes place female students in particular can report confidentially and get advice and assistance.

‘The schools have to be required to provide mental health and wellbeing counsellors, to give support for present and past pupils affected by these awful revelations.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are very concerned by the significant number of allegations recently posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The abuse of children and young people in all its forms is abhorrent.

‘The vast majority of schools, colleges and universities take their safeguarding responsibilities very seriously, so it is particularly shocking when allegations of abuse are made in connection with a place of education where everyone should feel secure and be protected.

‘Working together, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council are in contact with ‘Everyone’s Invited’ to provide support, protection and advice to those who are reporting abuse, including on contacting professionals or the police if they wish.’

LORRAINE CANDY: Do you think you know your teenager? It’s time for some tough lessons 

By LORRAINE CANDY FOR THE DAILY MAIL 

When my teenage daughters first used the phrase ‘rape culture’ I warned them to be careful about deploying such emotive words. As a journalist who has covered several significant rape trials in my career, it jarred with me. Teenagers can be so dramatic, I thought.

The expression came up as we discussed the website Everyone’s Invited, which has come to prominence in recent weeks as a place where young women leave testimonies of sexual harassment, assault and abuse.

But as the conversation continued I felt guilty for underestimating my 17 and 18-year-old girls. As they shared tale after tale of toxic misogyny among teenage boys, it became depressingly clear that neither of them was being dramatic.

From being sent unwanted ‘d*** pics’ which they saw as an everyday hazard, one they and all their friends had endured, to boys secretly filming during sex, boys having sex with drunk girls against their will, boys raping or sexually assaulting girls on nights out, boys groping girls on public transport, in the street, in school corridors and playgrounds, the litany of incidents that had happened to girls they knew seemed endless.

A Whitehall inquiry has been launched into the growing scandal that has seen some of the most elite schools including Eton College, St Paul’s School, Dulwich College, Westminster School and Highgate School named in accounts of sex abuse. Pictured: Pupils and staff protesting outside James Allen’s Girls School in Dulwich

And from what they described, almost any boy at any kind of school could be capable of this behaviour. And if he wasn’t, he would be unlikely to have the courage to call his mates out for it.

‘But why don’t these boys get reported?’ I asked incredulously.

‘There’s no point,’ they replied. ‘The most that happens is the boy gets told off at school but it doesn’t stop them. There’s no punishment, nothing changes, no one cares. They have no respect for girls. Doing this stuff gains them respect.’

Report wolf-whistling, urges top Yard officer 

A top Scotland Yard officer has urged women to report wolf-whistling to police if it makes them uncomfortable.

Louisa Rolfe, an assistant commissioner at the Met, has promised to take all incidents ‘seriously’, even if the reports do not constitute a crime.

The senior officer encouraged more women to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. She told the Sunday Times: ‘I would urge them to report to us. While every incident might not have a criminal justice outcome, we want to know about patterns of offending.

‘If you said to somebody about wolf-whistling [that they should] report it to police, they might think that’s strange. But, actually, if anything is making you feel frightened or so uncomfortable and upset that you’re adjusting your daily life to avoid it, then let us know.’

It comes after Home Office minister Baroness Williams announced that police forces will record if violent crimes are motivated by misogyny for the first time, in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard.

From the autumn, forces in England and Wales will record if crimes of violence are motivated by ‘hatred of sex or gender’ in what campaigners say represents the first step towards making misogyny a hate crime.

Assistant Commissioner Rolfe, who leads the force’s strategy on violence against women and girls, has said there is a need to ‘build confidence’ and trust between women and the police.

Until then I had no idea of the scale of the problem, wrongly assuming incidents as severe as those they were describing would be rare in such young teenagers.

Yet, as a number of prominent schools refer pupils to police over allegations and it’s announced that a national helpline and taskforce will be set up to tackle the issue, what is becoming increasingly clear is that a ‘rape culture’ does indeed exist in our schools, both state and private, a culture that until now has been largely ignored by teachers and nurtured by a dangerous lack of awareness or denial among parents of boys.

Which brings me to my 14-year-old son. Alongside protecting and believing my girls, how do I empower and protect him, too? Hearing the girls talk clearly made him uncomfortable and confused. I feel for my daughters, but I also I felt for him, too. It is important we understand that not every boy is involved in the behaviour being reported.

Some boys have already been identified on sites where girls post their experiences – and we cannot know yet what is true and what is not.

That is a fact: however, I think we should believe every girl’s story right now because I know how hard it is to come forward with these accounts in a society that is statistically proven not to believe women’s experiences of crime.

But equally, bringing about meaningful and lasting change will be more complicated than pitting boys’ defences against girls’ accusations; this should not become an anti-male witch-hunt, but be about altering entrenched sexist attitudes towards women and girls to keep them safe.

The first step towards that will involve a dose of honesty and reflection from all parents. We all have to educate ourselves on this situation, no matter how kind or sensitive we believe our sons to be.

When Scotland Yard offers to send experts into schools to talk to boys about consent, and one of the country’s most senior police officers calls this ‘the next big child abuse scandal’, we have to accept the severity of what is going on. And having spent years interviewing experts on teenagers for my parenting book I can tell you that while you may think you know your child, you really don’t.

Indeed in a BBC survey last year 75 per cent of parents didn’t believe their children had seen pornography, yet the majority of their children told researchers that they had.

All teenagers lead a private life parents know nothing about and it is healthy for them to have that independence, but it means you cannot truthfully know your son isn’t part of this problem.

The stories that have come to light in the past few weeks have laid bare a climate in schools that normalises sexist and abusive behaviour towards women. And it’s a climate of fear that also makes it hard for teenage boys to avoid peer pressure and condemn the behaviour of others.

The majority of parents of teens will be over 40, meaning their experience of navigating teenage relationships is outdated.

The environment is different to when we were at school – much less exposure to porn, no social media, no sexting. This means educating ourselves – no more ignoring or avoiding the issue – because it affects all of us.

You need to find out what your sons’ sources of information are online, to find out how their schools are addressing this toxic culture after the news over the past few weeks.

If you only have boys, you need to talk to the mothers of teenage girls whose stories will be different from yours. And yes, you need to talk directly to your sons about sex, consent and relationships, and the earlier you start the better. You might think your children would rather survive on broccoli and cabbage for a year than hear about this from their parents, but family planning experts have told me many times that teens do want to hear about relationships, consent and sex from their parents.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, psychologists I have spoken to say it is a parents’ words and attitudes that hold the most power over shaping a child’s views on sex and relationships.

So IT is up to us to ask our sons, as well as our daughters, about what’s going on, to really listen to them when they tell us, without judgement or criticism, to hear their stories and decide if we need to step in and educate our sons about the issues young girls are facing.

We must encourage the idea that there will now be consequences, legal or otherwise, for any toxic, abusive behaviour.

Our children are growing up in a time like no other, a super-connected world where the stresses on them are huge and complex. It is not enough to assume that schools will take care of sex education. They don’t appear to have done so far.

Teens need guidance and boundaries from curious and open-minded parents to help build resilience.

Being a teenager is tough. It requires enduring five years of rapid physiological and psychological change from 13 to 18 which involves a complete re-wiring of the brain and this means we have to treat all adolescents with care and patience, our own and other people’s. Boy or girl, they need more support from their parents now than at any other time of their young lives.

Mum, What’s Wrong With You: 101 things only the mothers of teenage girls know By Lorraine Candy is out on June 10, 4th Estate

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