The helpline launched in response to the allegations of sexual assaults in schools on the Everyone’s Invited website has received 650 contacts from concerned people in the five months since it was launched.
The helpline, run by the NSPCC, was commissioned by the Department for Education after the Everyone’s Invited website set up for victims to anonymously post their experiences of sexual abuse gained more than 11,000 posts, some from children as young as nine. These included reports about sexual name calling, unwanted sexual touching, sexual assault and rape by other pupils as well as online abuse like sharing nude images without consent.
At the same time as the helpline was commissioned, Ofsted was asked to carry out a review of safeguarding policies in schools to look at the extent and the severity of the issue and ensure schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
The Ofsted review, which also found that boys share content of nude girls between them like a collection game, found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people.
There have now been 650 contacts made to the helpline in the five months since it launched on 1 April and 118 of those contacts were serious enough to refer to an external agency such as police, local authorities and the NHS.
Where details were known, 121 contacts were from adult or child victims: 73 were female, 41 male, two transgender and 5 unknown. There were 67 contacts were from parents with concerns about their child.
Incidents included both recent and non-recent abuse with adults abused as children telling the helpline that they felt they could not report it at the time or they tried to but weren’t listened to. In other cases, adults witnessed incidents but didn’t act on it.
Some told the helpline they were accused of inviting unwanted attention while others were discouraged from taking action out of fear it would ruin their education and life prospects.
Sandra Robinson, NSPCC Helpline Manager, said: “We’ve heard about hundreds of incidents of pervasive peer-on-peer sexual abuse and sadly we know there are likely to be many more that have gone unreported.
“Contacts to the helpline paint a striking picture of the devastating and lasting consequences peer-on-peer sexual abuse can have on young people and how it can be exacerbated if safeguarding incidents aren’t handled correctly.
“For some pupils, returning to schools this week means facing their abusers again but they don’t have to do this alone. Our helpline is a safe space for children, teachers or parents to report recent or non-recent abuse and provide support to help them recover,” she added.
The government is encouraging teachers to remind their pupils that the NSPCC’s free Report Abuse in Education helpline is still available to them for support and confidential advice.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford said: “As children return to school this September, we want them to feel safe and protected. That’s why we’ve taken steps to remind all schools about the importance of our new mandatory RSHE curriculum, as well as the NSPCC’s dedicated helpline.
“We encourage all individuals who have been a victim of sexual abuse, whether recent or non-recent, to call the helpline so that they can receive the vital support they need,” she concluded.