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Peer-on-peer (child-on-child) abuse

Peer-on-peer abuse refers to a broad range of behaviours spanning a number of specific safeguarding issues. Its breadth is exemplified by the definition adopted by Dr C. Firmin, University of Bedfordshire:

Physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control, exercised within young people’s relationships.

Peer on Peer Abuse: Safeguarding Implications of Contextualising Abuse between Young People within Social Fields, Dr C. Firmin, University Beds 2015.

The following statistics highlight the extent of this issue:

  • One in five girls in England suffered physical violence from their boyfriend
  • More than four in ten teenage schoolgirls aged between 13 and 17 in England have experienced sexual coercion.
  • The rates of violence were higher for girls in England than in other countries.
  • Nearly half-48% of girls reported instances of emotional and online abuse from their partners.
  • Over a third of young boys in England admitted watching porn and held negative attitudes towards women

(University of Bristol and University of Central Lancashire, 2015)

  • Two thirds (65.9%) of contact sexual abuse experienced by children up to age-17 was perpetrated by someone under-18 (Radford et al 2011)
  • ¼ Barnardo’s service users was sexually exploited by their peers (2011)
  • Almost a third of 16-18-year-old girls say they’ve been subjected to unwanted sexual touching in UK schools (EVAW 2010)

Keeping Children safe in Education, 2016 states that:

All staff should be aware that safeguarding issues can manifest themselves via peer on peer abuse. This is most likely to include, but may not be limited to, bullying (including cyberbullying), gender based violence/sexual assaults and sexting. Staff should be clear as to the school or college’s policy and procedures with regards to peer on peer abuse.

Trixonline have produced a useful briefing paper on the topic of peer-on-peer abuse.

This briefing makes the important point that the perpetrators of this type of abuse are also experiencing harm through their behaviours being, by definition the same or similar in age to their victims and also being under the age of 18.

Within the Designated Safeguarding Handbook, the following pathways are of pertinence:

  • Sexting
  • Bullying (inc. cyberbullying)
  • Gender based violence against women and girls
  • Inappropriate sexualised behaviour
  • Teenage relationship abuse
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Gangs and youth violence

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.