There are four key definitions of peer-on-peer abuse:
- Domestic abuse – young people who experience physical, emotional, sexual and/or financial abuse, and coercive control, in their intimate relationships, as well as family relationships.
- Child sexual exploitation – those under the age of 18 who are sexually abused in the context of exploitative relationships, contexts and situations, by a person of any age, including another young person.
- Serious youth violence – any offence of most serious violence or weapon-enabled crime, where the victim is aged 19 or younger, e.g. wounding with intent, rape, murder and grievous bodily harm.
- Harmful sexual behaviour – young people displaying sexual behaviours that are outside of developmentally ‘normative’ parameters.
Peer-on-peer abuse: the facts
- Rates of violence are higher for girls in England than in any other country.
- 1 in 3 girls have experienced sexual violence from a partner before they turn 18 years old.
- 4 in 10 teenage girls have experienced sexual coercion when they have been aged between 13 and 17 years old.
- One in five girls in England have suffered physical violence from their boyfriend.
- 48 percent of girls have experienced instances of emotional and online abuse from their partners.
- Young people have reported that physical, sexual and emotional abusing, as well as being abused by their peers, is a means of survival in gang affected neighbourhoods.
- Two thirds of contact sexual abuse experienced by children under the age of 17 was perpetrated by someone under 18 years old.
- Almost a third of girls aged between 16 and 18 years old have been subjected to unwanted sexual touching in UK schools.
Peer-on-peer abuse can manifest itself and impact a child in many ways, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Causing physical injuries
- Encouraging drug and alcohol abuse
- Going missing/running away
- Compromising their sexual health
- Committing criminal offences
- Acting disengaged from school
- Affecting their mental health and emotional wellbeing
What should you do?
To an extent, there is no clear boundary between incidents that should be regarded as peer-on-peer abuse and incidents that are more properly dealt with as bullying, sexual experimentation, etc. For this reason, a staff member’s professional judgement plays a vital role in the identification process.
It may be appropriate to regard a child’s behaviour as abusive if:
- There is a large difference in power between the people involved.
- The perpetrator has repeatedly tried to harm one or more people.
- There are concerns about the intention of the alleged perpetrator.
- If it is believed that the perpetrator intended to cause harm to the victim, this should be regarded as abuse even if severe harm was not actually caused.
Any professional who feels that a child has abused another child should notify the designated safeguarding lead immediately, including if the incident of abuse takes place off the school premises, although any member can make a referral to a children’s social care.
If the concern indicates that a potential crime has taken place, or that with safeguarding implications, it may be necessary to call children’s social care or the police.
The concern should be recorded in the school’s child protection concerns record, along with any further details or outcomes and should be made in accordance with the referral threshold set by the Local Safeguarding Children Board.