Safeguarding Training Centre | Peer-on-peer abuse



Safeguarding issues can present via peer-on-peer abuse, whereby a pupil is subject to significant harm by another pupil or pupils.

Context and Prevalence:

Research by Panorama found that reports of peer-on-peer sexual abuse rose by 71% between 2013 and 2017. It also found that 2,625 sexual offences were committed on school premises in the last four years, including 225 rapes.

Peer-on-peer abuse usually manifests as one, or a combination, of the following:

Bullying: if a child is suffering or at risk of significant harm, a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern. Bullying can take different forms, including cyberbullying, racist and religious bullying and homophobic bullying. It’s important to bear in mind that some types of behaviour or communication may constitute a criminal offence. 

Domestic violence: teenage relationship abuse involves controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between intimate partners aged 16 or over, and can be psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or emotional. 

Child sexual exploitation (CSE): defined as an individual or group taking advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person into sexual activity, (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. CSE:

  • Can be perpetrated by other children
  • May have occurred even if the sexual activity appears consensual; for example, if the child is legally old enough to consent but lacks the freedom or capacity to do so. This applies if the child is fearful or under the influence of harmful substances
  • Does not always involve physical contact – it may occur through use of technology
  • Can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’
  • Is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange

Harmful sexual behaviour: involves a child engaging in discussions or acts that are inappropriate for their age or stage of development. It may include inappropriate language or role play, or sexual assault. It also includes ‘sexting’, whereby a sexually explicit text, image or video is sent or received. Note: it is a criminal offence to possess or distribute sexual content of under-18s.

Serious youth violence: this form of abuse applies to victims aged 1-19 who are subject to offences such as violence, sexual offences, robbery, or gun or knife crime. This may occur within the context of gang activity.

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