Peer-to-peer abuse: Victim's parents call for changes to guidelines

Children's school playground
Image caption The number of reports of sexual assaults on children under 13 by another child in London have increased over the last year by 6%

The parents of a six-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by classmates have called for a record to be set up showing all sex abuse between children.

Bella - not her real name - was abused by two boys at her London school almost every playtime for six weeks.

The government said schools should be reporting peer-to-peer abuse and Ofsted inspectors should be highlighting if the school did not do so.

But Ofsted said it would be impossible to judge if incidents were being noted.

Statutory guidelines introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) last year and updated for this September said all teachers and staff must read part of the Keeping Children Safe in Education Guidance, which explained what peer-on-peer abuse was and the types of sexual violence of which staff should be aware.

But no reporting mechanism was introduced to make sure each teacher read the guidance and no timescale by which that should have happened.

Peer-to-peer abuse is defined as when sexual violence or sexual harassment is carried out by a child, or group of children, of any age and sex on another child. The government stipulates a child as being aged under 18.

Bella's mother said she was concerned the guidelines did not insist teachers took time off to read the guidance and there was not an official record of all incidents.

'It broke her - but she was told she was a silly girl'

Image caption Bella's mother wants there to be an official way to ensure guidelines have been met

Bella had been living with threats of violence from two boys who said they would slit her throat if she did not comply with their demands when they assaulted her four years ago, her mother said.

One boy was violent, while the other would watch.

Her mother said the abuse "broke" her.

"There's no other way to describe it. I walked her to that school every day and I'll never forgive myself for it," she said.

"And the only thing that made it stop was when she was brave enough to tell us and she only did that because it hurt too much to sit down."

Bella's parents later found there had been two occasions when a teacher had walked in on the abuse, but had told their daughter off for being "a silly girl".

"I was actually sick, I vomited, and I was horrified the teachers in question had already been interviewed and asked if they'd ever seen Bella in a compromised position and they had said no."

She said Bella was now "a very different girl".

"We do all that we can do which is to hold her, hold her for as long as she needs to be held.

"Talk to her, remind her of how very brave she is, how very strong she is, and how those boys don't get to ruin her life.

"But sadly they've left an imprint on her that's never going to go away."

Figures from the Metropolitan Police showed the number of reports of sexual assaults on children under 13 by another child in London have increased over the last year by 6%.

In 2018 there were 268 incidents reported in London, the highest level since 2013.

Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner, said she did "not think it's good enough to leave it to chance" for schools to interpret how the official guidance was implemented.

Ofsted said it had trained all its inspectors to look out for and report to the police and local authority any cases of abuse.

"However, there are limitations on our powers," it said.

"Schools do not have a legal duty to notify Ofsted of safeguarding incidents, nor do we have the power to investigate individual incidents in schools. This means that we are unable to collate an accurate national picture of reports of peer-on-peer abuse."

The DfE said it was working with partners to see what more could be done to prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools and how to respond to reports of it.

"We have published detailed advice to support schools to understand what child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment looks like, how to prevent it and how to respond to reports of it and we are always considering what more we can do to support schools, parents and potential victims on this important matter," it said.

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