Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges
Sexual violence and sexual harassment can occur between two children of any age and sex. It can also occur through a group of children sexually assaulting or sexually harassing a single child or group of children.
Children who are victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment will likely find the
experience stressful and distressing. This will, in all likelihood, adversely affect their
educational attainment. Sexual violence and sexual harassment exist on a continuum
and may overlap, they can occur online and offline (both physical and verbal) and are
never acceptable. It is important that all victims are taken seriously and offered
appropriate support. Staff should be aware that some groups are potentially more at risk.
Evidence shows girls, children with SEND and LGBT children are at greater risk.
Staff should be aware of the importance of:
- making clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment is not acceptable, will
never be tolerated and is not an inevitable part of growing up;
- not tolerating or dismissing sexual violence or sexual harassment as “banter”,
“part of growing up”, “just having a laugh” or “boys being boys”; and
- challenging behaviours (potentially criminal in nature), such as grabbing bottoms,
breasts and genitalia, flicking bras and lifting up skirts. Dismissing or tolerating
such behaviours risks normalising them.
What is sexual violence and sexual harassment?
It is important that school and college staff are aware of sexual violence and the fact
children can, and sometimes do, abuse their peers in this way. When referring to sexual
violence we are referring to sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as
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.
What is consent?106 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.107
When referring to sexual harassment we mean ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’
that can occur online and offline. When we reference sexual harassment, we do so in
the context of child on child sexual harassment. Sexual harassment 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.
Whilst not intended to be an exhaustive list, sexual harassment can include:
• sexual comments, such as: telling sexual stories, making lewd comments, making
sexual remarks about clothes and appearance and calling someone sexualised
• sexual “jokes” or taunting;
• physical behaviour, such as: deliberately brushing against someone, interfering
with someone’s clothes (schools and colleges should be considering when any of
this crosses a line into sexual violence – it is important to talk to and consider the
experience of the victim) and displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual
• online sexual harassment. This may be standalone, or part of a wider pattern of
sexual harassment and/or sexual violence.108 It may include:
• non-consensual sharing of sexual images and videos;
• sexualised online bullying;
• unwanted sexual comments and messages, including, on social media; and
• sexual exploitation; coercion and threats
The response to a report of sexual violence or sexual harassment
The initial response to a report from a child is important. It is essential that all v
victims are reassured that they are being taken seriously and that they will be
supported and kept safe. A victim should never be given the impression that they are creating a problem by reporting sexual violence or sexual harassment. Nor should a victim ever be made to feel ashamed for making a report.
106 It is important school and college staff (and especially designated safeguarding leads and their deputies) understand consent. This will be especially important if a child is reporting they have been raped. More information
107 PSHE Teaching about consent from the PSHE association provides advice and lesson plans to teach consent at Key stage 3 and 4.
108 Project deSHAME from Childnet provides useful research, advice and resources regarding online sexual harassment.
If staff have a concern about a child or a child makes a report to them, they should follow the referral process as set out from paragraph 22 in Part one of this guidance. As is always the case, if staff are in any doubt as to what to do they should speak to the designated safeguarding lead (or a deputy).
Updates and changes
These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information. Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.