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Peer Abuse

Peer abuse is abuse (including physical, emotional and sexual) of a child or young person by their peers.

Peer abuse includes:

  • Bullying (including cyber bullying)
  • Sexual violence & sexual harassment
  • Sexting
  • Teen partner abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Initiation/hazing type violence/rituals

This abuse can:

  • Be motivated by perceived differences e.g. on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other differences
  • Result in significant, long lasting and traumatic isolation, intimidation or violence to the victim. Children or young people who harm others may have additional or complex needs themselves, e.g.:
  • Significant disruption in their own lives
  • Exposure to domestic abuse or witnessing or suffering abuse
  • Educational under-achievement
  • Involved in crime

Stopping physical, sexual or emotional harm and ensuring immediate safety is the first priority of any education setting.

Emotional bullying can sometimes be more damaging than physical harm and should be taken equally seriously.
School staff should discuss all concerns with their Designated Safeguarding Lead and Deputy, who will assess and make judgements about each specific case and should use the guidance on these pages to help.
Other useful policies in the education section of the Safeguarding Sheffield Children website:

  • Domestic Abuse
  • Abuse & Neglect
  • Online Safeguarding
  • Photographs, Video’s & Other Images
  • Mobile Devices

Cyber-bullying & sexting happens ‘online’ through information technology with a widespread audience & devices to communicate through.   This form of bullying can occur at any time in or outside of any education setting but
should be assessed by staff if it involves a student.

Recognising peer abuse:

An assessment of an incident between peers should be completed and consider:

  • Chronological and developmental ages of everyone involved
  • Difference in their power or authority in relation to age, race, gender, physical, emotional or intellectual vulnerability
  • All alleged physical and verbal aspects of the behaviour and incident
  • Whether the behaviour involved inappropriate sexual knowledge or motivation
  • What was the degree of physical aggression, intimidation, threatening behaviour or bribery
  • The effect on the victim
  • Any attempts to ensure the behaviour and incident is kept a secret
  • The child or young person’s motivation or reason for the behaviour, if they admit that it occurred
  • Whether this was a one-off incident, or longer in duration

Taking action:

  • Always take complaints seriously
  • Never ask a student for a written statement, it can interfere with a criminal investigation
  • Assess needs of victim and perpetrator
  • Consider referral to Police or Social Care
  • Contribute to multi-agency assessments
  • Convene a risk management meeting
  • Record all incidents and all action taken

Governors should ensure that their policy:

  • Includes procedures to minimise the risk of peer abuse
  • Sets out how allegations will be investigated and dealt with
  • Reflect the different forms this abuse can take and make clear that it is abuse and should not be tolerated
  • Is clear to parents, students & staff so they are able to respond to incidents quickly
  • Is clear about how victims and perpetrators will be assessed and supported
  • Is regularly evaluated and updated
  • Identifies resources to help with particular problems
  • Addresses effective staff training which helps staff to understand all aspects of peer abuse, their statutory responsibilities, how to resolve problems, and where to seek support
  • Makes it easy for pupils to report all forms of bullying so that they are assured that they will be listened to and incidents acted on
  • Ensures that disciplinary processes are applied fairly, consistently and reasonably and take account of special educational needs, disabilities and vulnerability of students

Schools & colleges should:

  • Have an ethos where students & staff treat each other with respect and understand how their actions affect others
  • Openly discuss any issues that could motivate bullying with staff and students
  • Address issues early between pupils which might later provoke conflict
  • Develop strategies to help to prevent bullying
  • Involve students & parents to ensure they know what to do to prevent & report concerns
  • Create an inclusive, safe environment where pupils can openly discuss issues without fear
  • Invest in skills to help staff understand the needs of SEND, disabled and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils
  • Work with the wider community & agencies to tackle issues that occur outside the setting

Remember: If child or young person is at risk of or suffering significant harm, refer to Police and/or Social Care immediately. A young perpetrator should also be the subject of a child protection conference if considered to be at continuing risk of significant harm.

Multi-agency approach: If a child or young person has harmed someone, all agencies must be aware of their responsibilities to both the victim and the alleged perpetrator. The needs of the victim/s must always be paramount and separate multi-agency management and assessment of both the victim and the alleged perpetrator is essential.

Multi-agency assessments of both the victim and alleged perpetrator should consider the:

  • Nature and extent of the abusive behaviour, using expert professional advice if required
  • Context of the behaviour including unmet developmental and behavioural needs
  • Child or young person’s family and social circumstances
  • Risk to self and to others, including household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network

Decisions for local agencies include:

  • What is the most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system?
  • Whether the victim/perpetrator should be the subject of a child protection conference
  • What action is required from agencies to address the needs of the young victim/perpetrator