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Peer on peer sexual abuse rises

Reports of peer-on-peer sexual abuse have risen, the NSPCC has warned.

The child protection charity said calls to their helpline about young people experiencing harmful sexual behaviour had increased significantly following the Everyone’s Invited movement which enabled victims to anonymously post their experiences of sexual abuse on the website gained more than 11,000 posts, some from children as young as nine.

The Department for Education commissioned the NSPCC to run a helpline to support those who came forward with allegations of abuse while Ofsted was asked to carry out a review of safeguarding policies in schools.

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “Last year was a watershed moment as an unprecedented number of young people bravely came forward to challenge unacceptable peer-on-peer sexual abuse.

“The government has a golden opportunity to listen to these voices and to shape and change attitudes that can be key in preventing harmful sexual behaviour through its Relationships and Sex Education curriculum,” he added.

The charity highlights that:

  • The helpline received 2,365 child welfare contacts last year, which was an increase of 29% from the previous year.
  • Referrals to external agencies increased by 12% to 5,991.
  • The NSPCC is highlighting peer-on-peer sexual abuse as a key issue during their flagship How Safe 20222 virtual conference on May 11 and 12.
  • It comes nearly a year after the Ofsted review which revealed that peer-on-peer sexual abuse in schools is an everyday part of life that children shouldn’t have to tolerate.

NSPCC Helpline practitioners have heard about young people being exposed to sexual name-calling, unwanted sexual touching and sharing nude images without consent along with serious sexual assault and rape.

One father told the NSPCC helpline: “I’m calling about my 12-year-old son, Zac*. He told me about an incident with his friend Jacob*. The two boys were playing in the park, and Jacob asked Zac if they could see each other’s private parts and ‘play with each other’. Zac initially refused, to which Jacob said that ‘everyone else had done it’. Zac told me that he eventually said yes to him because he didn’t want to lose a friend and be seen as ‘boring Zac’. He didn’t reveal the exact details of what he’d done with Jacob, saying he was too embarrassed. He also said he didn’t want to get anyone into trouble. Still, I feel this is something that needs to be investigated, but I’m not sure who to ask. I’m hoping you can advise.”

One family member told the helpline: “I’m calling about my cousin who recently disclosed she’d been subjected to sexual assault at school. She told me there was a particular group of boys who'd regularly ‘grope’ her, touch her breasts and slap her bum - they'd laugh at her while doing this. Apparently, she’d tried reporting this to three of her teachers, but no action was taken - I’m not sure how to handle this situation but my cousin is still suffering to this day: she told me she ‘hated herself and her body’; she’s also stopped washing her hair because she doesn’t want anyone to like her.”

The NSPCC says the government’s mandatory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum has the potential to prevent HSB but far too many teachers still lack the confidence to deliver it.

The charity is urgently calling on the government to provide every school with the support and resources needed to deliver a high-quality curriculum confidently.

  1. The whole-school approach - where conversations about healthy relationships are present throughout the school.
  2. Creating a positive culture - where healthy behaviour grows, harmful attitudes are challenged and inappropriate behaviour is proactively identified and prevented from increasing.
  3. Supporting school staff - to strengthen a consistent culture of open discussion that helps children speak out and understand together what developmentally appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is.
  4. Working with safeguarding partners - to understand and address the risks children face in their communities and ensure there is a joined-up response from services when they experience sexual abuse.

Sir Peter Wanless added: “A lack of timely training and resources means that insufficient school staff lack the confidence to deliver on these complex issues which risks undermining good intent."

 “That’s why it’s vital for the government to urgently ensure each and every school has the support to deliver a high-quality curriculum,” he concluded.

Free teaching resources and lesson plans to help schools keep children safe can be found at the NSPCC website

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