Peer on Peer Abuse
Our response to peer on peer abuse, including reports of sexual violence or sexual harassment
We will use the following guidance to assist in the managing of reports Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges: advice for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads.
It is our aim to always recognise, acknowledge and understand the scale of harassment and abuse. We aim to never downplay some behaviours related to abuse that can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviour, an unsafe environment and in worst case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it.
Where necessary we will work with other professionals, agencies and partners in our response. This may include the TWSP partners, the relevant local authority children’s social care departments, the police, the NSPCC, the Anti-Bullying Alliance and online services, such as The UK Safer Internet Centre, Internet Watch Foundation and Thinkuknow.
We recognise that children may not find it easy to tell staff about their abuse verbally. Children can show signs or act in ways that they hope adults will notice and react. In some cases, the victim may not make a direct report.
The immediate response to a report
If a member of staff thinks for whatever reason that a child may be at risk of or experiencing abuse by their peer(s), or that a child may be at risk of abusing or may be abusing their peer(s), they should discuss their concern with the DSL (or deputy) without delay.
We will reassure all victims that they are being taken seriously, regardless of how long it has taken them to come forward and that they will be supported and kept safe. Abuse that occurs online or outside of our setting will not be downplayed and will be treated equally seriously. We will never give a victim the impression that they are creating a problem by reporting peer on peer abuse, including sexual violence or sexual harassment. Nor will we make a victim feel ashamed for making a report.
When there has been a report of sexual violence, the DSL (or a deputy) will make an immediate risk and needs assessment. Where there has been a report of sexual harassment, the need for a risk assessment will be considered on a case-by-case basis, but as good practice should be completed.
The risk and needs assessment should consider:
- the victim, especially their protection and support;
- whether there may have been other victims,
- the alleged perpetrator(s); and
- all the other children, (and, if appropriate, adult students and staff) at the school or college, especially any actions that are appropriate to protect them from the alleged perpetrator(s), or from future harms.
If any of the children involved has SEND, the DSL will liaise with the SENDCO to assist in the management of the report.
Risk assessments must be recorded (written or electronic) and will be kept under review. At all times, we will be actively considering the risks posed to all of our pupils and students and put adequate measures in place to protect them and keep them safe.
The DSL (or a deputy) will engage with children’s social care and specialist services as required. Where there has been a report of sexual violence, it is likely that professional risk assessments by social workers and or sexual violence specialists will be required. Our risk assessment is not intended to replace the detailed assessments of expert professionals. Any such professional assessments will be used to inform our approach to supporting and protecting our pupils and students and updating our own risk assessment.
The DSL may use and consider the TWSP Sexually harmful behaviour - risk assessment tool.
Action following a report of peer on peer abuse, including sexual violence and/or sexual harassment
Our DSL (and deputies) have a complete safeguarding picture and they are the most appropriate people to advise on our initial response. Important considerations will include:
- the wishes of the victim in terms of how they want to proceed. This is especially important in the context of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Victims should be given as much control as is reasonably possible over decisions regarding how any investigation will be progressed and any support that they will be offered. This will however need to be balanced with our duty and responsibilities to protect other children;
- the nature of the alleged incident(s), including whether a crime may have been committed and/or whether HSB has been displayed;
- the ages of the children involved;
- the developmental stages of the children involved;
- any power imbalance between the children. For example, is the alleged perpetrator(s) significantly older, more mature or more confident? Does the victim have a disability or learning difficulty?;
- if the alleged incident is a one-off or a sustained pattern of abuse (sexual abuse can be accompanied by other forms of abuse and a sustained pattern may not just be of a sexual nature);
- that sexual violence and sexual harassment can take place within intimate personal relationships between peers;
- are there ongoing risks to the victim, other children, adult students or school or college staff; and,
- other related issues and wider context, including any links to child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation.
As always when concerned about the welfare of a child, all staff will act in the best interests of the child. In all cases, we will follow general safeguarding principles. Immediate consideration will be given as to how best to support and protect the victim and the alleged perpetrator(s) (and any other children involved/impacted).
The starting point regarding any report will always be that there is a zero tolerance approach to sexual violence and sexual harassment and it is never acceptable and it will not be tolerated.
As a matter of effective safeguarding practice, we will do all we reasonably can to protect the anonymity of any children involved in any report of sexual violence or sexual harassment, especially where a case is progressing through the criminal justice system.
Options to manage the report
When to inform the alleged perpetrator(s) will be a decision that will be carefully considered. Where a report is going to be made to children’s social care and/or the police, then, as a general rule, we will speak to the relevant agency and discuss next steps and how the alleged perpetrator(s) will be informed of the allegations. However, as per general safeguarding principles, this does not and will not stop us taking immediate action to safeguard our children, where required.
We will regularly review our decisions and actions, consider our relevant policies and any lessons learnt. We will look out for potential patterns of concerning, problematic or inappropriate behaviour. Where a pattern is identified, we will decide on a course of action. Consideration will be given to whether there are wider cultural issues within our setting that enabled the inappropriate behaviour to occur and where appropriate extra teaching time and/or staff training could be delivered to minimise the risk of it happening again.
The DSL (or deputy) will use their professional judgement to: (a) assess the nature and seriousness of the alleged behaviour, and (b) determine whether it is appropriate for the alleged behaviour to be to be dealt with internally and, if so, whether any external specialist support is required.
In borderline cases the DSL (or deputy) may consult with Family Connect, and/or other relevant agencies on a no-names basis (where possible) to determine the most appropriate response.
Where the DSL (or deputy) considers or suspects that the alleged behaviour in question might be abusive or violent on a spectrum or where the needs and circumstances of the individual child/children in question might otherwise require it, the DSL (or deputy) will contact Family Connect or the local social care team for the child and/or the police immediately and, in any event, within 24 hours of the DSL (or deputy) becoming aware of the alleged behaviour. The DSL (or deputy) will discuss the concern(s) or allegation(s) with the agency and agree on a course of action, which may include:
- manage internally;
- early help;
- referral to children’s social care; and
- reporting to the police.
All concerns, discussions, decisions, and reasons for decisions will be recorded (written or electronic).
If bail conditions are in place, we will consider what additional measures may be necessary to manage any assessed risk of harm that may arise within our setting.
There may be delays in any case that is being progressed through the criminal justice system. We will not wait for the outcome (or even the start) of a police investigation before protecting the victim, alleged perpetrator(s) and other children and adult students in the school or college. The DSL (or a deputy) will work closely with the police (and other agencies as required), to ensure any actions we take do not jeopardise the police investigation.
If a child is convicted or receives a caution for a sexual offence, we will update our risk assessment. We understand it is important that we ensure both the victim and alleged perpetrator(s) remain protected. Where cases are classified as “no further action” (NFA’d) by the police or Crown Prosecution Service, or where there is a not guilty verdict, we will continue to offer support to the victim and the alleged perpetrator(s).
If a report is determined to be unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious, the DSL will consider whether the child and/or the person who has made the allegation is in need of help or may have been abused by someone else and this is a cry for help. In such circumstances, a referral to Family Connect or the relevant children’s social care team may be appropriate. If a report is shown to be deliberately invented or malicious, we will consider whether any disciplinary action is appropriate against the individual who made it as per our own behaviour policy.
Ongoing response to peer on peer abuse, including sexual violence or sexual harassment
We will consider the principles based on effective safeguarding practice and to help shape any decisions regarding safeguarding and supporting the victim and the alleged perpetrator(s).
Victims may not talk about the whole picture immediately. It is essential that dialogue is kept open and encouraged. We will offer victims a designated trusted adult in our setting to talk about their needs.
A victim of sexual violence is likely to be traumatised and, in some cases, may struggle in a normal classroom environment. We will avoid any action that would have the effect of isolating the victim, in particular from supportive peer groups, 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. This will be because the victim wants to, not because it makes it easier to manage the situation. If required, we will provide a physical space for victims to withdraw.
Whilst we will give all the necessary support to victims to remain in our setting, if the trauma results in the victim being unable to do this, alternative provision or a move to another setting will be considered to enable them to continue to receive suitable education. This will only be at the request of the victim (and following discussion with their parents or carers).
Please refer to our policy and procedures with regard to peer on peer abuse.