Schools and other settings tell me a lot of their work around safeguarding is taken up with dealing with allegations made by children about other children. Recent headlines have informed us that peer abuse is rising. Last year it was reported that almost 30,000 reports of children being sexually assaulted by another child have been made in the past four years, a 71 per cent increase. Police records showed a large increase in sexual offences committed by children under ten, with some offences taking place in primary school playgrounds. Altogether 2,625 incidents took place on school premises, including 225 rapes. (BBC’s Panorama – October 2017). So incidents of peer abuse are rising and affecting younger and younger children.
Furthermore it is felt (and I would definitely agree with this) that schools and other settings are finding it increasingly difficult to manage these worrying incidents appropriately. Understanding the risk of peer abuse is vital. Statutory guidance states clearly that: ‘All staff should be aware safeguarding issues can manifest themselves via peer on peer abuse. This is most likely to include, but not limited to: bullying (including cyber bullying), gender based violence/sexual assaults and sexting.’ (Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016)
In December 2017 the Department for Education released new non statutory guidance entitled ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’.
The guidance defines sexual violence as those physical acts that include rape, sexual assault and assault by penetration. Sexual harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that can occur online and offline which is likely to: violate a child’s dignity, and/or make them feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and/or create a hostile, offensive or sexualised environment’. A much wider concept than sexual violence, sexual harassment includes sexual comments, sexual “jokes” or taunting; physical behaviour, displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature; and online sexual harassment.
The guidance states that sexual violence and sexual harassment can:
- occur between children of any sex;
- occur through a group of children sexually assaulting or sexually harassing a single child or group of children;
- be extremely stressful and distressing to victims and in all likelihood, adversely affect their educational attainment;
- exist on a continuum and may overlap, they can occur online and offline (both physical and verbal); and
- are never acceptable.
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities can be especially vulnerable. Disabled and deaf children are three times more likely to be abused than their peers.
In terms of your Safeguarding and Child Protection policy and practice you should:
- Recognise that children are capable of abusing their peers and that such abuse should never be tolerated or passed off as “banter” or “part of growing up”.
- Recognise that peer on peer abuse can take many forms, and can manifest itself in many ways, including sexting, online abuse, bullying and cyber bullying and sexual abuse (and include information on each aspect in your policy).
- Understand that peer abuse is frequently gendered and that girls are more likely to be sexually touched or assaulted and boys are more likely to be subject to initiation/hazing type violence.
- Be clear about how your setting intends to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse (high quality sex and relationships education, anti-bullying procedures, strong personal and social education and specialist support and early interventions).
- Be clear about how your setting will manage allegations of peer on peer abuse. You should take all allegations extremely seriously. Each incident should be investigated and dealt with, including the right to search, screen and confiscate items that may provide evidence of teen abuse. All allegations which raise a safeguarding concern should be recorded and reported to the Designated Safeguarding Lead, who should contact the local referral agency. If a crime has taken place, the police will need to be involved. Parents should be informed and updated. The setting may consider exclusion, risk assessment, or other disciplinary procedures and any plan put in place should be recorded, monitored and evaluation by everyone concerned.
- Be able to support victims of peer on peer abuse.
For more information, see the Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges guidance.
And another thing (which also relates to Peer Abuse)…
It’s Safer Internet Day (SID) on Tuesday, 6 February 2018. The 2018 theme, “Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you” is a call to action for every stakeholder to play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, in particular the youngest users out there. More than that, it is an invitation for everyone to join in and engage with others in a respectful way in order to ensure a better digital experience.
For more ideas on how to mark SID, check out the website: https://www.saferinternetday.org/