Research report highlights prevalence of sexual abuse in UK schools

IICSA recently released its research report titled ‘Child Sexual Abuse in the Context of Schools’, which presents the Inquiry’s findings about the experiences of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in the context of schools.

The researchers examined the experiences of sexual abuse across several school settings including residential, non-residential, independent and state schools.

Male pupils made up the majority of those who reported abuse to IICSA’s ‘Truth Project’, and accounted for over 75% of all pupils who reported being abused, in independent and special schools. Fifty four percent of the research participants, who were sexually abused in state schools were female.

The majority of the abusers were male teachers or other educational staff, who were often found to have manipulated and groomed children, staff and parents in order to create the environment in which they sexually abuse pupils. They often had good reputations with staff and parents or were seen as “cool” by pupils. 29% of the victims and survivors, who reported sexual abuse came from independent schools.  In addition, a greater proportion of those who attended residential schools reported sexual, physical and psychological abuse by other pupils, more than those who attended non-residential schools.    

Sexual abuse by teachers often took place during class time – or perpetrators used class time to create opportunities for the sexual abuse, for example by telling pupils that they needed additional tutoring or support.  This support or tutoring then took place in breaks/lunchtime or in one case as ‘extra curricular’ activities after school.

However, sexual abuse was also reported as having been committed by fellow pupils and this accounted for 15% of the incidents reported.  

Four research participants noted that their abusers talked about them being 16, and how sex with a person aged 16 and above was legal. However, those teachers were overlooking their roles in positions of trust, which was criminalised in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Dr Sophia King, the report’s principal researcher  said:

Schools should be somewhere that children feel safe and protected, but this report shows a very different picture.  Almost half of those who reported being sexually abused in school knew of other victims in the same school, which is far higher than participants who were sexually abused in other contexts. Some victims thought they were in love with their abuser and were conflicted for many years into adulthood, with lasting impacts on their education, employment and social life.

The report also sets out suggested changes made by victims and survivors including schools having a legal responsibility to investigate sexual abuse allegations, educating children on relationships, sex and abuse from a young age, and providing school staff with better child protection training.

This research goes to show that vigilance and strong safeguarding practices must be maintained, to ensure that pupils can attend school without fear of being sexually abused by either their teachers – or equally worryingly – their fellow students.

Written by James Chambers at BLM

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