The latest figures from the NSPCC-service reveal that last year there were 3,004 counselling sessions with young people who had experienced sexual abuse by a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, an ex-partner or another young person and 41 of these sessions were with young people from Northern Ireland. (1)
Older children are vulnerable to suffering the abuse in different places, including school, at home, at parties and online, while younger ones are more likely to experience it as one-off incident at primary school. Some teachers who witness peer sexual abuse have told us, via the NSPCC Helpline, they need more support in how to deal with these situations.
Recognise and Respond
NSPCC in Northern Ireland is emphasizing the importance of helping teachers to recognise and respond effectively to harmful sexual behaviour. Additionally, NSPCC programmes such as Speak Out Stay Safe and Keeping Safe, in primary schools, aim to teach children to recognise abuse, react to protect themselves and to tell a trusted adult. This work needs to be built on and extended for young people attending post primary education and in these settings young people should be taught about respect, tolerance, boundaries and consent as part of learning about forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
One girl aged 16 said: “When I was younger I was round at a friend’s house and he asked me to come and look at his room. I can’t really remember what happened after that, I know that he made me pull down my pants and that something happened. I’ve tried to block the memory, but I struggle sleeping sometimes because I get night terrors.”
An NSPCC report – ‘Is this sexual abuse?’ – published today highlights how victims felt confused about what had happened to them, with younger children in particular struggling to understand if they had actually been sexually abused. Some children and teenagers that recognised something was wrong still expressed a reluctance to tell anybody due to the fear of being blamed or bullied, leaving them vulnerable to lasting mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Neil Anderson Head of NSPCC in Northern Ireland said: “There is something particularly shocking and disturbing about a child being sexually abused by another young person.
“Unfortunately we have to wake up to the fact that this is happening across the UK thousands of times over each year, with both victim and perpetrator at risk of suffering lasting damage. Tackling this problem demands all children are introduced to key learning concepts such as boundaries and consent from primary school onwards.”
Letting The Future In
To help children and teenagers who have been sexually abused the NSPCC delivers ‘Letting the Future In’ from its service centres across the UK. The charity sees boys and girls aged 4 to 17 in special play therapy rooms where they do things like messy play, writing, storytelling and art to help express feelings that the young person can’t put into words.
The NSPCC also offers an online learning course – Managing sexualised behaviour in primary schools – which enables anyone who works with children in primary schools to feel confident about recognising, assessing and managing incidents of sexualised behaviour.
Any child worried about peer sexual abuse can call Childline on 0800 11 11. Any adult who is concerned about a child can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000