Figures received by BBC Panorama show in September of this year demonstrate an alarming rise in the number of children abusing other children.
Following up on earlier research carried out by BBC Panorama in 2017 (which found that Police recorded almost 8,000 reports of abuse of children by other children in England and Wales) the most recent figures have seen those figure soar to 15,000 to 16,000, with number falling in 2020-2021 to 10,861 (which is thought to be largely attributed to the pandemic and the lack of opportunity for such abuse to be carried out with many children not being at school and movement generally restricted).
The information was compiled on foot of Freedom of Information requests made by BBC Panorama to 43 of the Police Forces in England and Wales, the request was answered by 34 of those Police Forces. The request sought details of the number of sexual offences reports where both the alleged perpetrator and victim were under 18 years of age.
It is important to note that the figures do not include the online offence of non-consensual sharing of private sexual images or videos. Nine out of 10 of the alleged abusers were boys and in eight out of 10 cases the abuse was carried out on girls. In approximately 10% of the cases reported the alleged perpetrator was under 10 years of age.
Dr Rebekah Eglinton, chief psychologist for IICSA told BBC Panorama that unwanted touching, as well as being pressured into sharing nude photos, had become a part of everyday life for children “to the point where they wouldn’t bother reporting it” and “…what children have said to us is that sexual violence is now completely normalised through social media platforms [and] through access to online pornography.”
While the figures are shocking they can hardly be described as surprising especially in light of 50,000 testimonies that have been collected by the Everyone’s Invited website in the last 12 months and the Ofsted Report in June 2021 on sexual abuse in schools, which found that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people, and also found that many teachers and leaders consistently underestimate the scale of these problems.
The table below is from the report and sets out the percentage of girls and boys who say that they have experienced the various behaviours listed on the table “a lot” or “sometimes” at school or college.
There is a general consensus among girls especially that even now there is no clarity on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and teachers also admitting that they are not properly equipped and or resourced to deal with these issues.
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford told BBC Panorama that schools were very clear about the government’s safeguarding guidance, saying training was available and the government would be rolling out extra support to designate safeguarding leads in another 500 schools.
However, the figures obtained by BBC Panorama would appear to indicate that while there is clear government guidance in this area it is not effective and additional funding and resources are clearly required to ensure the guidance is fully effective and is utilised.
In addition to the additional funding and resources that are needed if real progress is to be made in this area, the Christian campaign group CARE has commented that the increase in these numbers is also the “price of government inaction” by failing to implement pornography safeguards, especially age verification. CARE goes on to say that in 2017, Part 3 the Digital Economy Act was passed which would have introduced age verification, effectively blocking access to porn sites for under-18s, but the plans were abandoned in 2019. CARE spokesman James Mildred said the decision to abandon the introduction of age verification “… led to children continuing to access degrading and violent pornography, which motivated attacks in the offline world.”
In the week after we saw Wayne Couzens sentenced to whole life imprisonment for the murder of Sarah Everard what is clear is that, as a society we need a whole of government approach to tackling these issues, which can only be achieved by investing in training and adequately resourcing all the necessary statutory services to ensure that going forward we can effect real change in behaviour and attitudes which will inevitably lead to better outcomes for all concerned.