In daylight and only minutes from her house, Zara McDermott was assaulted by a teenage boy when she was 21. Now, her story and other heartbreaking incidents are being told in BBC Three’s latest documentary which looks at the rape culture that continues to rage throughout Britain’s schools.
Warning: this article describes sexual assault, self harm and suicide.
Four years ago, when she was 21, a teenage boy had been following Zara McDermott home one day. As she walked through a park, just minutes from her parent’s house, the boy pushed her against a fence.
“I could hear him shouting things at me and then he just said, ‘I’m going to fuck you right now, I’m going to fuck you against this fence.’
“Then with one hand down my leggings … I was trying as hard as I could to keep them up. Then I looked over his shoulder and I can see a group of adults running towards me. And then he just ran.”
She continues: “As he was running, he was continuing to shout like, ‘I’m going to get you, I’m not done with you, I’m going to get you.’
“This guy was a child, like he must be a teenager. I was just so shocked at how forceful he was, considering he was like, he could have even been 15.
“This schoolboy, he would have 100% raped me.”
Although she reported the incident to the police, they were never able to find the perpetrator in question. Since the incident though, the model, influencer and presenter has thought about how sexually abusive behaviour such as this is increasingly rampant in boys of a young age.
In a bid to open up the conversation around teenage rape culture, McDermott’s Uncovering Rape Culture documentary is a considerate and informative watch. Heading into schools, she wants to tackle where these behaviours might stem from: porn, lack of sex education and conversations around consent.
Attitudes around sexual assault within elite private schools – and the boys who attend them – are given a closer interrogation with the help of Screengrab Them founder Zan Moon.
Starting the Instagram page, Moon wants to tackle rape culture in schools with public exposure. She explains: “I thought, what can we do to prove what we’re going through and the seriousness of the situation?
“So you screenshot any evidence that you have and I tag the schools in it and I publicly shame them.”
Scrolling through the page, she shows McDermott some of the outright rape threats that have been received by girls as young as 13.
One of the threatening messages reads: “You had a handsome Etonian and you bang on about me hitting you. I’m a name, a face, a God. You’re nothing. You’re scum, love.”
She founded Screengrab Them after being assaulted by a boy from an elite private school when she was 15. As she didn’t realise what he had done was a crime, she didn’t report the assault. Her perpetrator attended Eton College and Moon underlines just how elite schools are getting it wrong.
“You have to get into the mindset of these young boys and these schools,” she says.
“They were taught about how to have emotional intelligence for when they become CEOs, like that was their PSHE. They were told ‘You’re going to be CEOs, you’re going to be leaders of the country,’ which often they are.
“It creates a young boy who thinks that they’re untouchable. They think that whatever they want, they’ll get because they’re at the top of society and everything else is below.
“When that feeds into sex, there’s just the expectation that, you know, if they want sex, they get sex.”
One of the crucial points that McDermott uncovers in the documentary is the problem of mass porn consumption but also the lack of accountability of the companies behind it.
Talking to teenage boys in the documentary, one of them admits: “When boys watch porn, they can misinterpret what it’s actually like.”
Another boy states: “That’s the only way I educated myself.”
McDermott asks them if they think that they started watching porn too young and one of the boys plainly remarks: “100%.”
Another states: “I shouldn’t have watched it at all. Maybe once. But then, after that once, that should have been it, that really should have been it.”
Setting the standards for sex, McDermott concedes, is the porn industry. Throughout the documentary, her search for comments from these big companies – like MindGeek, the company behind PornHub – proves to be a lengthy path full of dead ends.
Another heartbreaking story that the documentary focuses on is that of 12-year-old Semina, who alleged she had been raped and was then bullied about it online.
“She was very funny, very bubbly, very chatty and then things changed,” her mother Rachel tells McDermott. “She was constantly on her phone. Social media became massive in her life … I didn’t understand it.
“Something had happened, making her very, very, very unhappy.”
Rachel had found out that Semina had started receiving messages from an older boy at her school. Semina admitted that, at first, he was nice and regularly complimented her but that only lasted a few weeks before the threats started.
“If you don’t send me nudes, I’ll block you” was one of them and when Semina refused, the boy resorted to begging her to meet up with him.
“It was the night before Mother’s Day and she came into the bedroom and she’d cut herself all over her body. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at and she just broke down.
“She just said to me: ‘Mum, I’ve been raped.’ We sat down and she told me everything – when it started, when the messaging started online.
“She said, ‘He pecked my head so much that I just gave in in the end and I met him.’”
A month after the alleged rape, Semina reported the incident to the police but the boy disputed it and no DNA evidence was found – it was her word against his.
“She thought it was all her fault,” one of her close friends tells McDermott. Semina became the target of vicious online attacks, being beaten up and bullied until she started refusing to go to school.
In June, Semina tried to take her own life and was put into a coma. Four days later, she passed away in hospital.
McDermott says: “I think Semina’s story is a real, extreme example of this deeply ingrained rape culture, most of which is stemming from social media, is stemming from porn, is stemming from so many things.
“No 12-year-old should have to be in the position where they are being pressured for sex and nudes from a boy.”
Watch Zara McDermott: Uncovering Rape Culture on BBC iPlayer now. To read her full interview with Stylist, download this week’s edition of the magazine.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help and support, you can call the Rape Crisis national helpline on 0808 802 9999 (open 12pm - 2.30pm and 7pm - 9.30pm daily). You can also find your nearest Rape Crisis centre or visit the website for more information.