Our flagship conference shines a spotlight on peer-on-peer sexual abuse as reports increase significantly

Reports to our Helpline about young people experiencing harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) increased significantly last year after an unheard-of number spoke out publicly about abuse in and around schools.

  • Our Helpline received 2,365 child welfare contacts last year, a 29% increase from the year before, with referrals to external agencies increasing by 12% to 5991.
  • Peer-on-peer sexual abuse is a key issue that will be highlighted during our flagship How Safe Conference 20222 virtual conference today and tomorrow (May 11 and 12).
  • It comes nearly a year after the Ofsted review which revealed that peer-on-peer sexual abuse in schools is an everyday part of life that children shouldn’t have to tolerate.

We're calling for government action

The review was delivered after thousands of testimonies flooded the Everyone’s Invited website and our Report Abuse in Education Helpline was set up with the Department for Education3.

The government’s mandatory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum has the potential to prevent HSB but far too many teachers still lack the confidence to deliver it.

We’re urgently calling on the government to provide every school with the support and resources needed to deliver a high-quality curriculum confidently.

We argue that there must be a whole-school approach where conversations about healthy relationships are present throughout the school (in the classroom, corridors, staff room and Governors' meetings) and with parents and the wider community, not just restricted to RSE lessons.

Schools should be supported to work with students to create a positive culture where healthy behaviour grows, harmful attitudes are challenged and inappropriate behaviour is proactively identified and prevented from increasing.

All school staff must be supported to strengthen a consistent culture of open discussion that helps children speak out and understand together what developmentally appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is.

Schools must also be helped to work closely with safeguarding partners to understand and address the risks children face in their communities and ensure there is a joined-up response from services when they experience sexual abuse.

 

Report Abuse in Education

If you've experienced abuse at school recently or in the past - or you're worried about someone who has - contact our Report Abuse in Education Helpline on 0800 136 663.

Get support

Last year was a watershed moment as an unprecedented number of young people bravely came forward to challenge unacceptable peer-on-peer sexual abuse.

 

The government has a golden opportunity to listen to these voices and to shape and change attitudes that can be key in preventing harmful sexual behaviour through its Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.

 

But a lack of timely training and resources means that insufficient school staff lack the confidence to deliver on these complex issues which risks undermining good intent.

 

That’s why it’s vital for the government to urgently ensure each and every school has the support to deliver a high-quality curriculum.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO

Reports to our Helpline paint a worrying picture of peer-to-peer sexual abuse

Our Helpline practitioners have heard about young people being exposed to sexual name-calling, unwanted sexual touching and sharing nude images without consent along with serious sexual assault and rape.

"I’m calling about my 12-year-old son, Zac*. He told me about an incident with his friend Jacob*. The two boys were playing in the park, and Jacob asked Zac if they could see each other’s private parts and ‘play with each other’. Zac initially refused, to which Jacob said that ‘everyone else had done it’. Zac told me that he eventually said yes to him because he didn’t want to lose a friend and be seen as ‘boring Zac’. He didn’t reveal the exact details of what he’d done with Jacob, saying he was too embarrassed. He also said he didn’t want to get anyone into trouble. Still, I feel this is something that needs to be investigated, but I’m not sure who to ask. I’m hoping you can advise."
Father, NSPCC Helpline

"I’m calling about my cousin who recently disclosed she’d been subjected to sexual assault at school. She told me there was a particular group of boys who'd regularly ‘grope’ her, touch her breasts and slap her bum - they'd laugh at her while doing this. Apparently, she’d tried reporting this to three of her teachers, but no action was taken - I’m not sure how to handle this situation but my cousin is still suffering to this day: she told me she ‘hated herself and her body’; she’s also stopped washing her hair because she doesn’t want anyone to like her."
Family Member, NSPCC Helpline

The How Safe Conference 2022

Several speakers address peer-to-peer sexual abuse over the two days of the How Safe Conference 2022, including Oor Fierce Girls, a teenage girls-led initiative in Dundee, that created toolkits and materials to promote healthy relationships, encourage conversations and share where to get support if a relationship doesn’t feel right.

NSPCC Scotland, Dundee City Council and Young Women’s Movement (YWCA) run the partnership.

Ashley, Oor Fierce Girls Co-Founder and Champion, said:

“Oor Fierce Girls is so incredibly important in today’s society - young people deserve to know that they’re worthy of love.

If we can help to open up conversations around healthy relationships and reduce the stigma surrounding this topic, I truly believe we’ll have a generation of people who know that they deserve respect and safety in their relationships.

I value this campaign above all else, and I feel we may be well on the way to making young people feel more comfortable in their bonds with others.”

The National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCATS)

Clinicians from NCATS also spoke about their service to support parents and carers of young people who have displayed HSB yesterday.

We run an NCATS service that also offers assessment, treatment, consultation and training for and about children and young people who have sexually abused others and with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust.

Free teaching resources and lesson plans to help schools keep children safe can be found at NSPCC Learning.

We're working hard to ensure we're still here for children. Will you help us?

*DISCLAiMER

Names have been changed to protect identities. Any photographs are posed by models.


References

  1. 1. Contacts to the NSPCC Helpline for adults about peer-on-peer sexual abuse amongst young people increased by 29% from 1,831 in 2020/21 to 2,365 in 2021/22. Referrals to external agencies increased by 12% from 535 in 2020/21 to 599 in 2021/22.

  2. 2. NSPCC’s How Safe Conference 2022 will bring together over 750 safeguarding professionals to hear the latest information and innovations to inform their work and empower them to play their part in protecting children from abuse.

  3. 3. Since NSPCC’s Report Abuse in Education Helpline was launched on April 01 2021 to the end of December, it's handled a total of 979 contacts. Of these, 176 resulted in a referral to an external agency such as police, local authorities and the NHS.