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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, 2019 includes:

Peer on peer abuse

  1. All staff should recognise that children are capable of abusing their peers. All staff should be clear about their school’s or college’s policy and procedures with regard to peer on peer abuse.
  2. Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure that their child protection policy includes:
  • procedures to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse;
  • how allegations of peer on peer abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with;
  • clear processes as to how victims, perpetrators and any other child affected by peer on peer abuse will be supported;
  • a clear statement that abuse is abuse and should never be tolerated or passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh” or “part of growing up”;
  • recognition of the gendered nature of peer on peer abuse (i.e. that it is more likely that girls will be victims and boys perpetrators), but that all peer on peer abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously; and
  • the different forms peer on peer abuse can take, such as:
  • sexual violence and sexual harassment. Part five of this guidance sets out how schools and colleges should respond to reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment;
  • physical abuse such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair pulling, or otherwise causing physical harm;
  • sexting (also known as youth produced sexual imagery): the policy should include the school’s or college’s approach to it. The department provides Searching Screening and Confiscation Advice for schools. The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Education Group has published Advice for Schools and Colleges on Responding to Sexting Incidents; and
  • initiation/hazing type violence and rituals.

Farrer and Co has a safeguarding unit that has produced a peer on peer abuse toolkit is a recommended resource to support you in your work to safeguard pupils from peer on peer abuse.

Trixonline has 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.