Preventing harmful sexual behaviour and abuse in schools

29 March 2021

Reports of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault have been in the headlines after a website was set up for schoolchildren to post about their experiences, with much abuse taking place in schools.

The Everyone’s Invited website has received thousands of testimonies from children and young people about the physical and online harm they’ve gone through. While the stories are written anonymously, many have named the school linked to the allegations.

It’s not the first time that schools have been linked to cases of child sexual abuse, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Some of the stories involve harm committed by adults, but many involve other children and young people.

Stories are told of all kinds of harm, from rape and sexual assault to sexist name-calling. Online harm is also included, including pressuring to share sexual images and sharing them without consent.

How we can all help prevent harm

The headlines and stories themselves are shocking but unfortunately, fit with previous surveys and research. Around one-third of child sexual abuse is carried out by other children and young people, and the online world has opened up new avenues for harm.

Surveys have suggested that many professionals don’t feel equipped to respond to incidents of harmful sexual behaviour in young people. Often the response to harm varies depending on location, and some well-meaning responses from adults might actually increase the risk of further harm. This means schools and teachers need more support themselves.

The statistics will be a surprise to lots of people, but it does mean that there’s lots we can all do to prevent this harm from happening in the first place. That’s why we’ve made a guide for families and professionals with information and advice. Here are our top tips for parents and teachers.

  1. Have open, positive, and honest conversations with children and young people about relationships, consent, and trust – both in the offline and online worlds. Scaring them won’t help.
  2. Take all instances of harm seriously, from name-calling to allegations of sexual abuse. Learn to spot the signs of harmful sexual behaviour, and find out about where to get help, support, and advice.
  3. Make sure young people know they can come to you if they are worried about something, and make sure you know where to get help for yourself.
  4. Respond positively – in cases of harmful sexual behaviour between young people, both sides need support. The victim clearly needs to be looked after, but the child who harmed also needs help so that they don’t continue with this behaviour. Many young people who sexually harm others have themselves experienced abuse.
  5. Recognise that children’s safety is everyone’s business. Parents, teachers, and wider society all need to work together – and we need to work with children at a level that matches their age and understanding.

Getting help if something goes wrong

There’s lots going on in the world right now and the pandemic has brought extra worries for all of us. Rather than add to our worries, stories like this can give us an opportunity to take positive steps to keep children safe and protect them from abuse in schools and the wider community.

If children come to you with concerns about what they may have experienced, seen, or done, it is important to listen calmly and respond positively.

If you want advice or if you’re worried about the behaviour of a child or young person, we can help.


Talk to us if you’re worried about child sexual abuse

Our confidential child sexual abuse prevention helpline (0808 1000 900) is available for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse. Callers do not need to give identifying information, so can remain anonymous. We speak to thousands of people every year and help them take action to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation.

As well as our confidential helpline, you can get support from our experienced advisors through our live chat and secure messaging service.

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