Rise in young people seeking help over peer-on-peer abuse in UK
Childline reports 29% increase, with many callers not clear about what consent means.
Children and young people are increasingly seeking help over peer-on-peer sexual abuse, with a 29% jump in demand for counselling sessions in the last year, according to a leading UK helpline.
Childline, a counselling service for young people up to the age of 19, warns the scale of the problem could be much greater than current figures suggest, as many children and teenagers do not understand that what has happened to them is abuse.
In 2017/18 the helpline, which is provided by the NSPCC children’s charity, held 3,878 counselling sessions with young people concerned about peer-on-peer abuse. Many young callers displayed a lack of understanding about consent, with some unsure about whether something was abuse if it happened in the context of a relationship.
In more than a third (36%) of counselling sessions where the main concern was sexual abuse, the young person said that another child or young person was the perpetrator.
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One 14-year-old girl told the helpline: “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.“
Advertisement “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.”
The NSPCC is calling for relationships and sex education in schools to include what abuse is and how to recognise the signs.
According to a recent investigation by the children’s charity Barnardo’s, allegations of children committing sexual offences against other children have risen 78% in England and Wales in four years. 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.
One mother, whose daughter was raped by a classmate, told the Guardian: “The increase in the [Childline] figures should not come as a surprise to anyone. The evidence of the rise in this problem has been there for a number of years now.”
“The tragedy is that the Department for Education is still refusing to make peer-on-peer abuse a policy priority, despite the evidence. It is time they invested some thought and money into dealing with the problem.”
The End Violence Against Women campaign also expressed concern about high levels of sexual violence between children at school. “The majority of victims are girls and there simply isn’t enough being done by schools or school authorities to prevent incidents or respond when it does happen, which is why Childline is the only lifeline for so many young people.
“Relationships and sex education is vital; boys and girls need much better information about consent and what good and bad relationships look and feel like, but the government has delayed its introduction to all schools by another two years.”
Childline has re-launched its #ListenToYourSelfie campaign to educate about and prevent peer-on-peer sexual abuse. The charity’s founder and president, Esther Rantzen, 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.”
The minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “From September all schools and colleges must follow new guidance which includes how to support victims of peer-on-peer abuse.”
“We want to young people to grow up knowing about how to build healthy and respectful relationships – which is why we are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools and relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools, which will both teach children about topics such as consent in an age-appropriate way.”