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​Peer or Peer abuse- it’s a real thing!

Aug 30, 2019

Peer On Peer

Facts and Figures

  • Around 1/3 of all sexual offences against C&YP in the UK, are committed by other C&YP.
  • The Police recorded 9,290 accusations of sexual offences in which both the alleged perpetrator and victim were under 18 in 2016, compared with 5,215 in 2013.

·        4 in 10 teenage girls have experienced sexual coercion when they have been aged between 13 and 17 years old.

·        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.

·        A recent investigation by Barnardo’s of allegations of children committing sexual offences against other children has risen 78% in England and Wales in four years.

What is it? 

As Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018: Annex A, pg 84-88) states ‘Peer on peer abuse- Children can abuse other children. This is generally referred to as peer on peer abuse and can take many forms. This can include (but is not limited to) bullying (including cyberbullying); sexual violence and sexual harassment; physical abuse such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair pulling, or otherwise causing physical harm; sexting and initiating/hazing type violence and rituals.’ All people involved are under the age of 18 years and are harmed or exploited by their peers who are of a similar age to themselves. Peer on peer abuse can happen in a range of settings; at school;

·        at home; 

·        in public spaces;

·        at parties;

·        at a friend’s house; and

·        online.

Who does it affect? 

Both males and females are affected, and they are usually 10 years + with the abusers often been older. There has however been cases of peer or peer abuse on children as young as 8 years. Any C&YP are at risk but the more vulnerable they are the higher the risk.

A 14-year-old girl told ChildLine “My boyfriend is sometimes violent towards me and recently he’s forced me into doing sexual things when I didn’t want to. It wasn’t always this way, but it’s been going on for a few weeks now and I’m worried it’s going to get worse. I’m scared of how he would react if I tried to end the relationship. I don’t feel like I can speak to someone without my parents or friends at school finding out. I’m really scared”.

Impact of peer and peer abuse

Peer or Peer abuse can impact a child in many ways;

  • Encourages substance misuse
  • Running away
  • Sexual health
  • Committing crimes
  • Causing physical harm and injury to self
  • Not interested in school.
  • Affecting their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

What should you do if it is suspected

A lot of adults are unclear about which behaviours are part of ‘normal’ sexual development and those behaviours which are abusive, damaging and harmful. 

It is hard to distinguish between abuse and bullying and remember it is not our job to investigate. Our job is to Recognise, Respond by Reporting to your DSP and they will Refer. C&YP may be reluctant to tell an adult because they are worried they or the perpetrator will be blamed or bullied, no one will believe them, are worried what will happen to the perpetrator, don’t think it’s serious enough to repot and scared, so we need to remember our TED training and reassure the C&YP making the disclosure that they have done the right thing in reporting it. You need to follow your Safeguarding procedure in referring matters to DSP/making a referral and it is a good idea to speak to the school to make them aware that this is happening.

How can peer or peer abuse be prevented?

We need to educate C&YP of appropriate, healthy and respectful behaviours and relationships and similarly educate them on unhealthy and abusive relationships and what they look and feel like. The NSPCC is calling for relationships and sex education in schools to include what peer on peer abuse is and how to recognise the signs, what constitutes as ‘peer on peer abuse’ and understanding the consequences of peer or peer abuse is important in preventing this type of abuse from happening. We can also educate children of the British Values of which are fundamental in society. Risk assessments should be in place in all settings as well as training for staff.  

ChildLine- where to signpost C&YP

In 2017/2018 ChildLine had 3,878 counselling sessions with C&YP who were worried about peer-on-peer abuse and many of these callers had little understanding about consent and were unsure that if the behaviour was really abuse if it was happening in a relationship. Some reasons for little understanding are; they are confused about what constitutes ‘normal’ sexual activity, they are not sure if they gave consent, they were drunk when it happened, it happened by a partner/friend, the abuse happened online and not in person and they blame themselves for leading the abuser on.

ChildLine have a campaign about educating and preventing peer on peer abuse.

Esther Rantzen, the charity’s founder said: “Young people tell us that they have been compelled to take part in behaviour against their will, which sometimes involves them suffering violence. If you ever feel pressured to do something you don’t want to, we urge you to get support, either from a friend, a trusted adult or Childline.” ChildLine are concerned that the figures are higher, simply because C&YP are not aware that they are being abused. ChildLine- 0800 1111


NSPCC (2018) “Is this sexual abuse?”: NSPCC helplines report about peer sexual abuse. London: NSPCC.