Tackling 'peer on peer' child sexual abuse

By Des Mannion

| 02 January 2018

A recent investigation by the BBC's Panorama highlighted the true scale of the issue of child sexual abuse inflicted by other children - so-called  "peer on peer" abuse.

Figures obtained by the BBC from the police indicated that this form of abuse is increasing significantly with reports of offences rising from 4,603 in 2013 to 7,866 last year - a staggering increase of 71 per cent.

Previous research has found that a third of all child sexual abuse is committed by other children. It is not fully understood why these children sexually harm others but we know that around half who do so have experienced abuse themselves.

So it is crucial from both a criminal justice and a child protection perspective that we find ways of reducing the number of offences taking place and lessen the harm being caused to children by their peers.

We know that most children who carry out abuse do not go on to become adult offenders if they are given the right support so we work closely with the perpetrators of peer on peer abuse.

Our Turn the Page programme is delivered at a dozen NSPCC bases across the UK and sees specialist staff working directly with children who are exhibiting harmful sexual behaviour to stop it developing further.

Turn the Page, which is aimed at boys and girls aged between five and 18, uses programmes such as the Good Way Model, which focuses on the right and wrong decisions and the impact these make. It helps the young people involved to identify and manage their thoughts, emotions and actions.

The key point of the Turn the Page programme is to help young people who have sexually harmed others to learn about healthy relationships, so they can understand socially acceptable behaviour both in a sexual and non-sexual way, and refrain from repeating their behaviour in future. This can prove pivotal in preventing further offending and in protecting others from harm. Without help of this kind, some of these young people will go on to become adult sex offenders.

Preventing peer on peer abuse is difficult and complex but the apparent scale of the issue shows that the work in prevention, rehabilitation and education around this issue is increasingly important and urgent.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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