Preventing peer-on-peer sexual abuse
Organisations and individuals that work with children have a responsibility to keep them safe. It’s important to create a healthy and safe environment for all children and young people and challenge societal norms that may allow peer-on-peer sexual abuse to take place.
Policies, procedures and codes of conduct
Your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures should include information about peer-on-peer sexual abuse. You should share these with everyone in your organisation, as well as parents and carers. This will help adults understand what they need to do to prevent and tackle peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
You might find it helpful to create a version of your policies and procedures that are suitable for children and young people.
Sharing this information may:
- help children and young people understand that any incidents of peer-on-peer sexual abuse will be taken seriously and responded to effectively
- help them know how to report anything upsetting that may happen
- encourage them to speak out if they are worried about their own or someone else’s behaviour.
> Find out about writing safeguarding policies and procedures
You should also have codes of conduct which clearly set out what behaviour is and is not appropriate for adults and children. This will help make sure young people know what behaviour is suitable for your setting and what the consequences will be if they breach the rules.
Helping children speak out
Children might not feel able to talk to adults about peer-on-peer sexual abuse. But there are things you can do to make it easier.
- Children may feel more confident speaking out if they have a positive, trusting relationship with a trusted adult. This can be done by encouraging them to share their thoughts and opinions, responding to their concerns, and respecting and listening to them.
- If children can see a culture within your organisation that challenges inappropriate behaviour, they may feel more confident that any concerns they raise will be responded to appropriately.
- Having specialist staff in pastoral care or counselling roles can make it easier for children to share their concerns.
(Contextual Safeguarding Network, 2020).
You should think about how you can make your organisation’s environment safe for children and young people. To start with, you could identify any locations where there are concerns about peer-on-peer sexual abuse taking place. This might include toilets, unsupervised corridors and areas that are poorly lit or hidden from adult view. Think about what you can do to make these places safer – for example, increasing supervision levels in certain areas or improving lighting.
> Find out about creating safer environments for children and young people
Talking with children about abuse and harassment
It’s important to talk with children and young people about peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
It’s good practice for all organisations that work with children to have discussions about sex and healthy relationships. In schools, lessons on relationships, sex and sexuality are a good way of helping children learn about topics such as appropriate sexual behaviour, trust, consent, boundaries and responsibility.
Topics you can discuss include:
- what healthy sexual activity and respectful relationships look like (both online and offline)
- gender stereotypes and perceptions of gender roles
- pornography and how it presents sexual behaviour
- consent and withdrawing consent
(Department for Education (DfE), 2021a; DfE, 2020).
Explain what peer-on-peer sexual abuse is and what it may look like. This may help children understand if they have seen or experienced abuse. Make sure they know who they can talk to if they are concerned about anything or have experienced something upsetting.
Childline has produced age-appropriate information and advice for children and young people about sexual abuse, which includes information about peer-on-peer sexual abuse. You may want to signpost children to Childline for support, or use some of these examples to help start a conversation.
> Childline’s information about sexual abuse for children and young people
> Read our advice on how to have difficult conversations with children
> Find out more about how to promote healthy relationships, from early years through to older children
Make sure all the adults in your organisation are trained to recognise and respond to peer-on-peer sexual abuse. This will help them understand what is normal, inappropriate or abusive sexual behaviour and what action to take.
> Find out more about managing harmful sexual behaviour in schools
> Read about responding to harmful sexual behaviour in sports settings (Child Protection in Sport website)