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The Worrying Growth of Peer on Peer Sexual Abuse in Our Schools

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The BBC recently covered a deeply disturbing story regarding peer-on-peer sexual abuse by school age children.  According to the NSPCC, cases like this involving not only secondary aged children, but also primary schoolers, happen, “thousands of times a year"[1].  This will no doubt shock many parents who had never considered this even a remote possibility. 

In one case outlined by a mother on the Victoria Derbyshire show, she explained how she had invited a child from her child’s primary school for a play date at home with her eight-year-old son.  The boy who had been invited suggested the two boys could go to the bedroom to "do something special with Lego".  According to accounts by the victim, the other boy wedged a chair behind the bedroom door and pulled the curtains.  The boy (who was actually younger than her son) repeatedly asked to see her son’s genitals, trying to pull his underpants down, and stating his other friends allowed them to see theirs, and he would not be his friend if he didn’t.  It was at this point, the boy raped her son, telling him not to tell anyone as he would be angry with him if he did.  The victim only revealed the truth to his mother later in the evening, telling her that the boy had attempted to rape him on four previous occasions.

A significant leap in peer on peer sexual abuse

The Guardian reported in October 2017 that 30,000 cases of this type had been reported to the police since 2013, over 2,500 of which occurred on school premises[2].  In response to a freedom of information request from the majority of the police forces in the UK, the number of peer on peer sexual abuse cases increased 71% between 2013 (4,063) and 2016 (7,866).  And as if the statistics could not be more worrying, they show the number of sexual abuse cases perpetrated by children under the age of ten rose over 100% between 2014 to 2017, to 456 cases.

The damaging effect on victims

In another case reported involving a ten-year-old girl who had been subjected to nearly a year of sexual harassment by a boy in her school, also reported in the Guardian, her experiences had left her becoming increasingly angry and withdrawn, to the point of self-harming herself[3].  Understandably, without knowing the reasons for their daughter’s sudden change in behaviour, her parents were deeply concerned.  Eventually, details of what had happened emerged, including several occurrences during which the boy had been sexually inappropriate both verbally and physically.  When asked why she hadn’t confided in them earlier, their daughter said she hadn’t because she thought they would be angry “because I thought I might be pregnant.”

One parent of a child who had endured sexual abuse from a peer told the BBC, "he's not the same boy. He's still regularly prone to low moods.  He's had two rounds of counselling, which has helped. Thankfully he's now made new friends - but he's the one who has had to start afresh."

The NSPCC, who is spearheading a campaign to address peer on peer sexual abuse and to help children affected, say that many victims are left with long-term mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  


Are schools taking this matter seriously?

It also appears that the authorities, teachers and schools are struggling to manage allegations of peer on peer sexual abuse.  School teachers do have a legal duty to formally report sexual abuse on pupils by adults, but this not the case when carried out by children, according to research by the BBC’s Panorama programme[4]

The Department of Education (DoE), on the contrary, state that any allegations of sexual abuse should be handled as a crime by the police.  The problem lies in that children at primary school are not yet at the age of criminal responsibility, and as a result, there is considerable confusion and lack of guidance regarding how to handle such situations.  In one case, even the police could offer no assistance, advising the parents of a victim that no charges could be brought due to the age of the perpetrator[5].

The DoE takes the view that schools must implement (or update if it exists) a ‘child protection policy’.  A spokesperson for the DoE stated, "We know that these cases can be incredibly complex and sensitive and following feedback from parents and schools, we recently published updated advice to help schools prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment between children".

If your child been the victim of sexual abuse by another child at school

Given the prevailing inability by some schools, local authorities, and police-forces to adequately and sensitively deal with cases such as this, it is advisable that parents seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in abuse cases.  If the person who carried out the sexual act on your child is under the age of legal responsibility, this is no reason not to seek justice and compensation.  This is the least your family deserve.  By speaking to one of our specialist solicitors, we will be able to guide you on your options in a manner that respects the emotions and needs of children and parents alike.

Our personal injury team, led by abuse claims expert, Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to claim compensation for personal injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.






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