Safeguarding and supporting the victim
Victims may not disclose the whole picture immediately. They may be more comfortable providing information on a piecemeal basis. It is essential that dialogue is kept open and encouraged. When it is clear that ongoing support will be required, schools and colleges should ask the victim if they would find it helpful to have a designated trusted adult, for example their form tutor or designated safeguarding lead, to talk to about their needs.
A victim of sexual violence is likely to be traumatised and, in some cases, may struggle in a normal classroom environment. There may be times when the victim finds it difficult to maintain a full-time timetable and may express a wish to withdraw from lessons and activities.
If the trauma results in the victim being unable to remain in school, alternative provision or a move to another school or college should be considered to enable them to continue to receive suitable education. This should only be at the request of the victim and following discussion with their parents or carers.
Safeguarding and supporting the alleged perpetrator
The guidance recognises that the school or college will have to balance safeguarding the victim, and the wider student body, with providing the alleged perpetrator with an education, safeguarding support as appropriate and implementing any disciplinary sanctions.
Consideration should be given to:
- the age and the developmental stage of the alleged perpetrator and nature of the allegations. Any child will likely experience stress as a result of being the subject of allegations and/or negative reactions by their peers to the allegations against them
- the proportionality of the response. Support and sanctions should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Discipline and the alleged perpetrator
Disciplinary action can be taken whilst other investigations by the police and/or children's social care are ongoing. The fact that another body is investigating or has investigated an incident does not in itself prevent a school from coming to its own conclusion, on the balance of probabilities, about what happened, and imposing a penalty accordingly.
Working with parents and carers
The school or college will, in most instances, engage with both the victim's and the alleged perpetrator's parents or carers when there has been a report of sexual violence. This might not be necessary or proportional in the case of sexual harassment and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The exception to this rule is if there is a reason to believe informing a parent or carer will put a child at additional risk.
It is good practice for the school or college to meet the victim's parents or carers with the victim present to discuss what arrangements are being put in place to safeguard the victim and understand their wishes in terms of support they may need and how the report will be progressed.
It is also is also good practice for the school or college to meet with the alleged perpetrator's parents or carers to discuss any arrangements that are being put into place that impact the alleged perpetrator.
Safeguarding other children
Consideration should be given to supporting children who have witnessed sexual violence, especially rape and assault by penetration. Witnessing such an event is likely to be traumatic and support may be required.
The school or college should be doing all they can to ensure both the victim and alleged perpetrator, and any witnesses, are not being bullied or harassed, including online or by social media
A whole school or college approach to safeguarding, a culture that makes clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment is always unacceptable, and a strong preventative education programme will help create an environment in which all children at the school or college are supportive and respectful of their peers when reports of sexual violence or sexual harassment are made.
It is important that schools and colleges keep their policies, processes and curriculum under constant review to protect all their children. Reports of sexual violence and/or harassment, especially where there is evidence of patterns of behaviour, may point to environmental and or systemic problems that could and should be addressed by updating relevant policies, processes or relevant parts of the curriculum.