Ashbourne College is committed to the prevention, early identification and appropriate management of peer-on-peer abuse. Peer-on-peer abuse is extremely serious and should never be passed off as ‘banter’, ‘just having a laugh’ or ‘part of growing up’. Ashbourne takes a whole-college approach to safeguarding which involves understanding the nature and level of risk to which students are or may be exposed to peer-on-peer abuse. The College encourages students and parents to bring forward concerns relating to any behaviour that may constitute peer-on-peer abuse so that prompt and appropriate action can be taken. Any form of abuse or harmful behaviour brought to the attention of the College is dealt with immediately in order to reduce the extent of harm and the impact on students’ long-term physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing.
The aim of this policy is to set out a clear and comprehensive strategy to prevent, identify and manage peer-on-peer abuse affecting students at the College. The policy should be read in conjunction with the College’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy and Procedures. Additional relevant safeguarding-related policies include:
This policy has been drawn up in accordance with government guidance on: Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges (2018), Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) (2021), Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018), Children’s Act (1989) and the Equality Act (2010).
4. Responsibility and roles
Peer-on-peer abuse falls under the wider remit of child protection and safeguarding. Ashbourne’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) and deputies (DDSL), in consultation with other senior management, take the lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection at the College, in collaboration with the local authority and other relevant external agencies.
All staff are required to complete relevant safeguarding training as directed by the DSL within the agreed time period, and keep up-to-date with any relevant safeguarding and child protection developments. Section 7 of the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy sets out what is expected of staff in terms of their responsibilities to keep students safe and the procedures to deal with any concerns. All staff must also be familiar with Keeping Children Safe in Education (2021), particularly part 1 and Annex A.
It is important that all staff understand their responsibility to:
It is a legal requirement to ensure that a direct referral, invariably by the DSL or DDSL, is made to Child Social Care (CSC), within one working day, if there is a risk of immediate serious harm to a student.
4.1 Contact details
Designated Safeguarding Lead
Safeguarding Mobile: 07578 548 537
Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead
Safeguarding Mobile: 07951 510 224
Nominated Safeguarding Director
College approved counsellor
5. Ashbourne’s whole-college approach to safeguarding
Ashbourne promotes a culture of mutual respect, tolerance and collaboration between all members of the College community and encourages the development of characteristics that generally underpin healthy relationships, such as belief in achievable goals, perseverance, respect, honesty and integrity, courage, humility, kindness and generosity, trustworthiness, sense of justice and self-respect and self-worth. The College’s Student Behaviour and Exclusions Policy is designed to support this ethos, and all students are expected to respect and comply with the values and standards set out in that policy.
Ashbourne provides a comprehensive academic and pastoral support network for all students comprising teachers, personal tutors, senior leaders, designated safeguarding leads and SENDCo. support. This helps create an open and honest environment where students feel confident and safe to raise concerns, talk about issues and challenge perceptions. This is reinforced through regular PSHEE and Personal Tutoring sessions in which students learn how to recognise and develop healthy relationships, as a part of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), as well as addressing peer-on-peer abuse, anti-bullying and online safety. During these sessions students are reminded of the College’s child protection and safeguarding procedures and the support available to them. In addition to the guidance provided both in these sessions and across the support network students and staff may also request individual counselling sessions, if appropriate, organised through the DSL.
6. What is peer-on-peer abuse?
Peer-on-peer abuse is any form of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control, exercised between children or young people within relationships (intimate and non-intimate) and through wider peer associations.
6.1 Recognising peer-on-peer abuse
All staff, students and parents should be aware that peer-on-peer abuse can take various forms including, but not limited, to those listed below. Peer-on-peer abuse can be extremely traumatic and have long-lasting physical and mental health consequences; it can also result in criminal prosecution.
6.2 Peer-on-peer sexual abuse
All suspected or reported peer-on-peer sexual abuse affecting students is taken very seriously and will be dealt with by the DSL or DDSL, in consultation with local authority safeguarding partners (see 8.1 below). When there has been a report of sexual violence or assault, the DSL will make an immediate safeguarding risk and needs assessment (see 8.3 below) in order to take urgent and appropriate action.
Where serious harm and/or criminal offences are involved or being investigated externally the College may also take internal actions or sanctions against those engaging in or implicated in unacceptable behaviour and/or to safeguard others (see 7.3 on assessing and responding to harmful sexual behaviour).
6.2.1 Sexting (sharing of youth produced sexual imagery)
Possessing or distributing indecent (sexually explicit) images of a person under 18 years of age is a criminal offence, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Sexting is when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit text, image or video, including ‘nude pics’, ‘rude pics’ or ‘nude selfies’, via any type of online communication platform. Anyone of any age, gender and sexual preference may be pressured into sending sexual imagery of themselves. Once an image is sent it can no longer be easily retrieved nor controlled, if at all, and may then be shared or widely distributed. Young people are often unaware that they are breaking the law when ‘sexting’.
Sexting refers to both images and videos where:
6.2.2 Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment can occur between young people of any age and sex. It can also occur through a group of young people harassing a single young person or group. Sexual harassment means ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’ that can occur online and offline, and is likely to ‘violate a child’s dignity, and/or make them feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and/or create a hostile, offensive or sexualised environment’ (KCSIE 2020).
Sexual harassment may be stand-alone incidents or part of a wider pattern of harassment and abuse, and can include, but is not limited to:
Sexual harassment creates an atmosphere that, if not challenged, can normalise inappropriate behaviours and provide an environment that may lead to sexual violence.
6.2.3 Sexual violence and assault
Sexual violence and sexual assault can occur between young people of any age and sex. It can also occur through a group of young people abusing a single young person or group.
Sexual violence and sexual assault are criminal offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and include:
Rape: A person (A) commits an offence of rape if: he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis, B does not consent to the penetration and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
Assault by Penetration: A person (A) commits an offence if: s/he intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person (B) with a part of her/his body or anything else, the penetration is sexual, B does not consent to the penetration and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
Sexual Assault: A person (A) commits an offence of sexual assault if: s/he intentionally touches another person (B), the touching is sexual, B does not consent to the touching and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
Consent is about having the freedom and capacity to choose. Consent to sexual activity may be given to one sort of sexual activity but not another, e.g. to vaginal but not anal sex or penetration with conditions, such as wearing a condom. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs. Someone consents to vaginal, anal or oral penetration only if s/he agrees by choice to that penetration and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
It is also important to differentiate between consensual sexual activity between children of a similar age and that which involves any power imbalance, coercion or exploitation.
6.2.4 Teenage relationship abuse
Teenage relationship abuse is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by an adolescent (between the ages of 13 and 18) against a current or former partner. Abuse may include insults, coercion, social sabotage, sexual harassment, threats and/or acts of physical or sexual abuse. The abusive teen uses this pattern of violent and coercive behaviour, in a heterosexual or same gender relationship, in order to gain power and maintain control over the partner.
Upskirting is a criminal offence under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019.
Upskirting typically involves taking a photograph under a person’s clothing (not necessarily a skirt) without their permission or knowledge, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks (with or without underwear) for sexual gratification or causing humiliation, distress or alarm; as well as for use in sexting. Anyone of any gender can be a victim.
6.3 Peer-on-peer bullying (including cyberbullying)
Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, often repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically and/or psychologically. Bullying involves an imbalance of power where the victim is made to feel powerless, worthless, excluded or marginalised, and unable to defend themselves. Bullying is typically connected to prejudices around belonging, identity and equality in the wider society, as well as perceived membership or associated with a certain group or identity. In particular, prejudices to do with disabilities and special educational needs, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, gender, home life, (for example in relation to issues of care, parental occupation, poverty and social class) and sexual identity (homosexual, bisexual, transsexual).
Cyberbullying is the use of online communications, such as mobile phones, instant messaging, email, chat rooms or social networking sites to harass, threaten or intimidate someone for the same reasons as stated above. The Malicious Communications Act 1988, section 1, criminalises cyberbullying where ‘electronic communications are indecent or grossly offensive, convey a threat or false information or demonstrate that there is an intention to cause distress or anxiety to the victim’. It also includes, (section 127) ‘electronic communications which are grossly offensive or indecent, obscene or menacing, or false, used again for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another could also be deemed to be criminal behaviour.’ Cyberbullying that involves taking and distributing indecent images of young people under the age of 18 falls under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
7. Early identification of peer-on-peer abuse
Peer-on-peer abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse affecting children and young people in the UK, according to current research. Any child or young person can be vulnerable to peer-on-peer abuse. Individual factors or situations can increase a person’s vulnerability to abuse by their peers even without specific reference to their characteristics. For example, an image shared of a young person can impact how they are perceived, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse. Peer group dynamics may also play a role in determining a person’s vulnerability. And social norms around power, control, femininity and masculinity may affect boys differently from girls.
7.1 Vulnerability and abuse
Research also suggests, however, that some young people are more likely to experience peer-on-peer abuse than others as a result of certain characteristics such as SEND, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race or religious beliefs and that girls are at greater risk of peer-on-peer sexual abuse; almost half of all 13-17 school girls have experienced sexual coercion.
Ashbourne recognises that SEND students are particularly vulnerable to being isolated and peer-on-peer abuse, and considers extra pastoral support accordingly. The DSL, who is also part of the SEND Team at Ashbourne, will meet with each of these students and ensure that they receive the appropriate levels of support. For more information about the support Ashbourne provides to SEND students please refer to the College’s SEND and Access Arrangements Policy
7.2 Potential indicators of abuse
All staff should be alert to the wellbeing of students and aware of the signs of peer-on-peer abuse so they are able to identify students who may need help or who are suffering, or are likely to suffer, harm and in such circumstances to take appropriate and timely action, working with other services as needed. It is important to note that the ways in which students may disclose or present with behaviour(s) as a result of their experiences will differ.
All staff should be alert to potential indicators of abuse, such as:
All staff should be aware of the associated risks and understand the measures in place to manage these, as outlined in this and the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy and Procedures.
7.3 Harmful sexual behaviour – framework for assessment and response
All behaviour takes place on a spectrum. Understanding where a child or young person’s behaviour falls on this spectrum is essential to being able to respond appropriately. Professor Simon Hackett has developed a continuum model to show the range of sexual behaviours children and young people may exhibit (although not exhaustive) and at which point that behaviour may be considered inappropriate, problematic, abusive and violent. It acts as a reference to help determine how to assess whether alleged sexual behaviour falls on the spectrum and how to respond. Areas of consideration may include, for example, whether the behaviour is:
8. Procedures for managing peer-on-peer sexual abuse
It is vital that a student at risk or in need receives the right help at the right time to address risks and prevent issues escalating. Experiences of abuse and violence are rarely isolated events, and they can often be linked to other things that are happening in students’ lives and environments. Any response to peer-on-peer abuse therefore needs consideration of the full context of students’ experiences and takes into account any potential complexity.
All staff at the College are expected to comply with statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018). Staff should follow the specific procedures outlined in Ashbourne’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy and Procedures, part 3, when they have a safeguarding concern about a student. This policy also contains specific guidance relating to peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
8.1 Multi-agency support
Ashbourne actively engages with (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) local authority safeguarding partners to discuss any safeguarding concerns that arise, including peer-on-peer abuse, in order to take timely and appropriate action.
Where a student is in immediate danger or extreme risk of harm, staff are legally obliged to make a referral directly to the CSC and/or the police, in accordance with Ashbourne’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy and Procedures 3.2 and 3.3. Such referrals are almost always made by the DSL or DDSL.
Serious allegations involving students under 18 years old
Where a report of sexual violence or sexual assault is made, the starting point is that this should be passed on to the police; any report to the police will be in parallel with a referral to the CSC. Following such a referral the DSL will consult with these partners and agree what information can be disclosed to staff and others, particularly in regard to the alleged perpetrator and their parents or carers, and to discuss how best to protect the alleged victim and their anonymity. The DSL will carefully consider the wishes of the alleged victim at all stages.
Serious allegations involving students 18 years and over
Where a report of sexual violence or sexual assault is made in relation to an alleged victim over 18 years old, the DSL will require their consent to make a referral on a named basis.
8.2 Managing disclosure
It takes a lot of courage for a student to disclose abuse. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed particularly when the abuse is sexual. In addition, their abuser may have threatened them not to reveal what has happened, they may have little trust in disclosing to adults or they may believe, or have been told, that the abuse is their own fault.
Disclosures relating to harmful sexual behaviours should be managed by the DSL or DDSL, wherever possible, with two members of staff present. Guidelines for managing a disclosure are as follows:
8.3 Peer-on-peer sexual abuse, alleged victim and alleged perpetrator
The DSL or DDSLs will always use their professional judgment to assess the nature and seriousness of the alleged behaviour and determine whether it is appropriate to deal with it internally or whether external specialist support is required. In any case, advice and guidance will be sought from the CSC.
When there has been a report of sexual violence or assault, the DSL 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. The risk and needs assessment should consider:
Risk assessments will be recorded and kept under review on Ashbourne’s secure internal safeguarding database.
Where an allegation of sexual abuse (harassment, violence and assault), exploitation or grooming is made against a student, both the alleged victim(s) and the alleged perpetrator(s) will be treated as being at risk and safeguarding procedures in accordance with Ashbourne Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy will be followed. Alleged victims, if at the College, will be supported by the DSL and support from external agencies will be sought, as appropriate.
A student against whom an allegation of sexual or violent abuse has been made may be neutrally suspended from the College during any internal review. The College will continue, where possible, to offer educational provision to the alleged perpetrator. The College will take advice from the CSC on the internal review of such allegations and will take all appropriate action to ensure the safety and welfare of all students involved including the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. If it is necessary for a student to be interviewed by the Police in relation to allegations of abuse, the College will ensure that, subject to the advice of CSC, parents are informed as soon as possible and that the students involved are supported during the interview by an appropriate adult and until the investigation is completed. Confidentiality will be an important consideration for the College and advice will be sought as necessary from CSC.
In relation to a report of sexual violence or sexual harassment, the DSL will reassure any alleged victim that they are being taken seriously and that they will be supported and kept safe. The alleged victim will never be given the impression that they are creating a problem by reporting sexual violence or sexual harassment; nor would an alleged victim ever be made to feel ashamed for making a report. The DSL will consider the risks posed to students and put adequate measures in place to protect them and keep them safe. This may include consideration of the proximity of the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator and considerations regarding shared classes, and sharing when on the College premises.
Where concerns or allegations include indecent images of students being shared, the DSL will consider what urgent actions, in addition to immediate safeguarding actions, need to be made to prevent further dissemination of images and how images may be removed from the internet, if possible.
9. Further guidance
9.1 Specialist organisations
Advice and signposting support for anyone being bullied, along with advice for parents and schools.
UK charity supporting children and young people through a range of services.
Traffic Light Tool supports professionals working with children and young people by helping them to identify and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours.
Contextual Safeguarding Network (University of Bedfordshire)
Resources for schools to assess response to harmful sexual behaviour. Supported by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.
UK-wide child protection charity dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. Working with families affected by sexual abuse. Confidential Stop it Now! Helpline.
Children’s charity specialising in child protection with statutory powers enabling them to take action and safeguard children at risk of abuse. Report Abuse in Education helpline: 0800 136 663 (Mon-Fri, 8am-10pm, Sat/Sun, 9am-6pm), firstname.lastname@example.org.
National charity that supports victims of rape through a network of Rape Crisis Centres in England and Wales.
Provides advice and support to children, young people, parents, carers and schools about staying safe online.
9.2 Government guidance
Effective date of the policy
Teaching staff / all staff / parents / students on request