Private schools 'must end culture of toxic masculinity', says ex-pupil

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

A former Kent boarding school pupil has written to headteachers of some of the country’s top fee-paying institutions calling for an end to a culture of harassment and "toxic masculinity".

Zan Moon, 24, says there needs to be a "drastic change" to the way boys are taught about relationships, to tackle the abuse girls receive from some of their male peers.

Speaking to ITV News Meridian, she says the "majority" of her sexual experience as a teenage girl were “non-consensual” but she "thought it was normal" because such behaviour was explained away with comments such as "boys will be boys".

Sexual harassment is not limited to private schools. However, the environment that an entitled, privileged young boy grows up in – not seeing any consequences for his actions – thinking they’re untouchable and that feeds into their relationship with women and feeds into this kind of misogynistic atmosphere of toxic masculinity. I think that prevails over most private education that I’ve come in contact with.

Zan Moon, former private school pupil

Although she attended an all-girls school, Ms Moon has spoken about being assaulted as a 15-year-old at a party, attended by boys from other private institutions.

Since discussing her experience publicly, she says she’s been inundated with testimonies from other women, recounting similar experiences of harassment from their school days.

She included anonymised versions of these accounts in her open letter to the heads of eight private schools, including Eton College. 

Zan Moon Credit: ITV Meridian

The headmaster of Tonbridge School, James Priory, has agreed to meet her to discuss the issues raised. The school declined our request for an interview. 

In a statement to ITV Meridian, Mr Priory said: “Whilst none of the testimonies in this open letter include specific allegations against named individuals, I am, of course, treating its contents with the greatest concern. These behaviours have absolutely no place at Tonbridge, or in society, and are incompatible with the ethos of care and respect for others which we do our best to teach and live by.”

As a school, we treat allegations of this kind with the utmost seriousness. We follow safeguarding policies and procedures in respect of all allegations brought to our attention, including notifying the relevant authorities.

James Priory, The headmaster of Tonbridge School, Statement to ITV Meridian

The government ordered a review in recent weeks into both private and state schools after thousands of anonymous allegations were shared on the Everyone’s Invited website. 

Everyone's invited website Credit: ITV Meridian

Michelle Barry, schools area coordinator for London and the South East at the NSPCC, says it feels like a “watershed moment”. 

“We would urge young people to have that courage and strength to speak out and to trusted adults around these issues and we can give them the very best help and support they need but also school have a vital role to play in creating that safe culture where people are respected and people don’t feel afraid to speak out,” Ms Barry added.  

Zan Moon has also started an Instagram account called Screen Grab Them, which shares screenshots of harassment young women have received on social media platforms.

Ms Moon says “for too long social media has been part of the problem” and it’s time for women to “use social media to our advantage”.

She says she hopes the “photographic evidence” will make it hard for the schools involved to “ignore”. 

I'm not angry at the boys who harassed me, I'm angry at the schools and their parents for not bringing them up to understand how to treat and respect women.

Zan Moon, former private school pupil

Ms Moon attended Benenden girls’ boarding school near Cranbrook, but has not made specific allegations about her time there.

In a statement, headmistress Samantha Price said: “This is an extremely important issue that is affecting all schools but I do hope that some good can come out of the very concerning revelations that have been reported, in the form of us all seeing tangible improvements.

"As a girls’ school, we feel that we have a significant role to play in this and for schools across the sectors to work closely together to significantly change this culture so that all of our young people feel safe in their relationships.

We have discussed this issue with our older students and followed this up with further information about consent, respect and what a healthy relationship looks like. These are areas we routinely cover with our pupils but we have put in place additional sessions in light of the recent revelations.”

The open letter Zan has written to the heads of eight private schools Credit: ITV Meridian

In a statement, Eton College said: “Eton always takes specific allegations extremely seriously, does all it can to support those directly affected, takes disciplinary action where appropriate and works with the relevant authorities, including the Police and Children’s Services.

Safeguarding the welfare of young people is our highest priority…Eton insists that all our pupils treat others with kindness, decency and respect.”

Young people and adults with concerns about sexual harassment or abuse in schools can contact the NSPCC helpline, Report Abuse in Education.