Letter sent in 2016 warned Dulwich College about 'culture of misogyny'
29th March 2021

Former private schoolgirl says she warned headmaster of £21,000-a-year Dulwich College that there was a ‘culture of misogyny’ at the school five years ago

  • Heather O’Donnell, 23, said she attempted to warn school’s master in 2016 letter
  • She said letter was signed by 160 girls and boys from two neighbouring schools
  • But Ms O’Donnell said that she did not receive a response from school at the time
  • Dulwich College told the Sunday Times it had taken action about letter in 2016 
  • New open letter accused school of being ‘breeding ground for sexual predators’ 

A former private schoolgirl said she tried to warn the headmaster of a prestigious private school at the centre of a sexual abuse investigation about a ‘culture of misogyny’ five years ago.

Heather O’Donnell, 23, said she attempted to warn the master of Dulwich College about the behaviour of its pupils in a 2016 letter.

She said the letter was signed by 160 girls and boys from two neighbouring south London private schools.

The letter set out concerns about a ‘culture of misogyny’ at the £21,000-a-year private school.

However Ms O’Donnell, who attended nearby Alleyn’s School, said she did not receive an acknowledgement of the letter, according to the Sunday Times.

A spokesperson for the school told the paper it did take action at the time of receiving the letter in 2016. 

Ms O’Donnell’s revelation comes after a former pupil earlier this month accused the school of being a ‘breeding ground for sexual predators’ in an open letter sharing accusations from victims of assault and revenge porn.  

She told the Sunday Times: ‘Our letter encouraged Dr Spence all the way back in 2016 to change the ethos of his school for the wellbeing of students at neighbouring schools.

Heather O’Donnell, 23, said she attempted to warn the master of Dulwich College about the behaviour of its pupils in a 2016 letter

Ms O’Donnel said the letter was signed by 160 girls and boys from two neighbouring south London private schools. The letter set out concerns about a ‘culture of misogyny’ at the £21,000-a-year private school (pictured)

‘I cannot help but wonder if Dr Spence had taken the first letter seriously, these pupils would have been spared these experiences with Dulwich College boys.’ 

Ms O’Donnell said the letter contained allegations that boys at the school would use a polling app called ‘Waggle’ to rank girls attractiveness.

The letter also contained allegations that the boys had shared pictures of girls on Facebook as ‘trophies’ and put pictures of their faces on blow-up sex dolls, according to the Sunday Times.  

It comes after two former Dulwich pupils were referred to the police last week amid claims of sexual harassment at the school.

The referrals were made after a former pupil at Dulwich College claimed the school is a ‘breeding ground for sexual predators’ in an open letter.

The letter was written by 19-year-old Samuel Schulenburg and includes about 250 anonymous stories from girls who went to schools nearby.

The alleged accusations include assault, revenge porn, sexual violence, ‘slut shaming’ and claims the school has an ‘established rape culture.’

Mr Schulenburg, who now goes to Oxford University, said: ‘The behaviour of…students is a testament to their entitlement, to their experience of an institution which has enabled their sexism.

‘The submitted testimonials do not present a divide between the many and the few. They describe a community of abusers and their enablers, violently sexist boys whose behaviour is underpinned by a collective understanding that their comfort and status is worth more than the lives of those who fall prey to their abuse.

‘In almost every story, experiences of assault, revenge pornography and slut shaming were exacerbated by the aggressor’s friends, young men who laughed at stories of sexual violence, who shared illicit photos of teenage girls without consent, who stood by as their mates ruined lives.

‘These accounts are heartbreaking as they are outraging. 

‘They describe a plethora of victims, female students at nearby schools, fellow Alleynians, female teachers. Their purpose is not to highlight the tragedy of individual cases, but to expose the overarching nature of this problem.

‘I believe that the College and its culture can be so much more than this. There has to be accountability. There has to be justice. It is long overdue.’

Former pupils from the school include Sir Ernest Shackleton, Bob Monkhouse, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nigel Farage.

Several testimonies about males from Dulwich College were made by female pupils from other schools.

One wrote: ‘I was filmed in a vulnerable position at a party by a DC boy without my consent and he then posted those videos on social media and shared them with friends.

‘Since then, I have been incredibly paranoid in any kind of intimate situation or party, I feel as though I can’t enjoy myself without the fear of being watched and ridiculed.

‘The DC lad culture is truly one of the most toxic and harmful environments I have ever been exposed to, I can only imagine what others have been through because of the shared mentality of arrogance and thoughtlessness that pervades Dulwich College.’

Another said: ‘I was held down and had my top and bra taken off by a group of Dulwich College boys who only gave my clothes back ten minutes later as I cried and screamed.’

Headmaster Joe Spence last week explained £21,000-a-year institution was responding to accusations from victims of assault and revenge porn revealed in an open letter

Former Dulwich College pupil Samuel Schulenberg wrote an open letter including the accusations

The letter, addressed to Dulwich master Dr Joe Spence, was posted to the former pupils’ Instagram page which included as link to the testimonies

Last week it was revealed Dulwich College had reported its own pupils to the police after receiving allegations of criminal sexual harassment.

Headmaster Joe Spence announced the move in a message to parents explaining how the institution was responding to the accusations.

Mr Spence wrote: ‘Since the publication of the Open Letter a small number of individuals have come forward naming their abusers and in these cases Dulwich College has either disciplined those pupils or, where there has been an allegation of criminal behaviour, passed the case on to the police.’

Mr Spence added: ‘We understand why victims of harassment or abuse may not wish to be named or to name perpetrators, but we welcome the opportunity to deal with specific cases, both so that wrongdoing can be punished and so that individual pupils against whom allegations have been made have an opportunity to defend themselves.’

The headmaster wrote that he ‘condemns unreservedly the behaviours and attitudes reported in the open letter’ and vowed to ‘challenge’ any instances of poor or illegal behaviour. 

MailOnline has contacted the school for a comment about Ms O’Donnell’s claims, though the school had not yet responded at the time of publication.

In a statement to the Sunday Times, a spokesperson for the school said it had investigated the 2016 letter and took action at the time – including a ‘suspension’ and an apology to the then-head of Jags school.

‘Shop your own sons’: Police chief urges parents who suspect their child in school sex scandal to contact officers as Sir Keir Starmer calls for inquiry and ‘cultural change’ in attitudes towards girls and women 

By Jack Wright for MailOnline 

A police chief has today urged parents to hand in their own children to the police if they suspect them of sexual abuse, as Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer urged for ‘cultural change’ in attitudes towards girls and women. 

Simon Bailey, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on child protection, said that parents who become aware that their son has committed a sexual assault should contact police.

It comes as he revealed officers have received ‘more than 7,000’ testimonies from pupils at schools alleging sexual abuse.  

The father-of-two Norfolk chief constable, 56, suggested some schools may have covered up allegations of sexual abuse.

And he said he is expecting to see further reports of abuse at universities and state and private schools. 

It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today added his thoughts, as he called for an inquiry and a cultural change in the attitudes towards women.

More than 100 schools have now 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.  

Sir Keir, along with 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.

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

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

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. 

‘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. 

‘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.

‘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. 

More than 100 schools have already been named in more than 6,600 harrowing anonymous testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, which was set up by former private school pupil Soma Sara (pictured), 22, to expose misogyny, harassment and assaults in schools

‘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. 

‘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. 

Pupils stage a protest against alleged rape culture at Highgate School in London, Britain 

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

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.

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’. 

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’.

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


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