In our series considering the recent disturbing allegations on the Everyone’s Invited website, today’s focus is on the issue of peer on peer abuse. This has been brought into sharp focus and has caused schools and colleges to examine what their obligations are, legal and otherwise arising from peer on peer abuse and to reflect on whether they are doing enough to detect and prevent peer on peer abuse as part of their overarching responsibility for safeguarding children in their care.
For those unfamiliar with the term peer on peer abuse, it is any form of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control exercised between children and within children’s relationships (both intimate and non-intimate), friendships, and wider peer associations.
It can take many forms and includes serious bullying (including cyber-bullying), relationship abuse, domestic violence and abuse, child sexual exploitation, youth and serious youth violence, harmful sexual behaviour and/or prejudice-based violence including, but not limited to, gender-based violence. It also includes online/digital peer on peer abuse such as sexting, online abuse, coercion and exploitation, peer-on-peer grooming, threatening language delivered via online means, the distribution of sexualised content, and harassment.
It is worth noting that at present a separate peer on peer abuse policy is not mandatory and it is usually covered in the main safeguarding policy.
Significantly the September 2018 Keeping Children Safe in Education, Statutory guidance for schools and colleges includes a new Part 5 to provide guidance to schools and colleges on how to respond to reports of peer-on-peer sexual violence and sexual harassment. This guidance placed stronger emphasis on tackling peer on peer abuse and stated that schools’ policies must clearly explain how they’ll deal with these issues. The Part 5 Guidance lists the different types of peer on peer abuse, what the school’s policy on peer on peer abuse should provide and requires the school to make it clear how it will support children affected.
For example, the Part 5 Guidance states that the policy on peer on peer abuse should state that “abuse is abuse and should never be tolerated or passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh” or “part of growing up””. The September 2018 Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance also included for the first time a summary of the government guidance document “Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Between Children in Schools and Colleges”. This summary makes clear that a school’s systems, policies, and training must address sexual violence and sexual harassment between children, so staff know how to help prevent it. As a first step in discharging their obligations and protecting children in their care from peer on peer abuse it is critical that this updated guidance be applied in all schools and colleges now, if it hasn’t been to date.