Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


What are young people thinking? – Oldham’s Efforts to Combat Peer-on-Peer Abuse



" Peer on peer abuse features physical, sexual and emotional abuse between young people and may occur within their friendship groups or intimate relationships” (Firmin & Curtis 2015)

In 2013 we became interested in and concerned at the ease of access young people had to 21st Century pornography, and how viewing this could potentially influence attitudes to sex, gender, respect and consent. It is well documented that that we live in a “see it”, “do it”, “post it”, “share it” culture, and like it or not internet pornography is becoming a main portal for children’s sex education in this country. Add celebrity culture, reality TV, hyper sexualised advertising and the blurring of boundaries that accompanies some aspects of social media to the mix and it would appear that young people are exposed to a variety of potentially harmful and complex messages about sex and consent.

So what are young people thinking? In Oldham we agreed that unless we had a dialogue with children in our community we would not know what they were thinking. We developed questionnaires that aimed to profile exposure and created resources to support children to critically understand the explicit / exploitive material they maybe encountering. This enabled us to tailor our approach to meet the learning needs of our young people.

The questionnaire responses revealed that there appears to be confusion with a high percentage of young people we worked with, particularly boys, on what constitutes rape and consent. Evidence of victim blaming attitudes attached to rape myths were also apparent. This is of great concern to us and to a variety of authors who have documented similar findings.

What we did know is that adolescence is a vulnerable time during which brain development still a work in progress. This affects young people’s risk taking, impulse control and consequential thinking.  Moreover peer groups and environmental systems are very influential within a young person’s developing sense of identity.

Researchers and our young people were telling us they wanted support in untangling the many confusing and mixed messages they were receiving.

 What did we do about this?

Phase 1- Prevention Strategy - Multi agency response to peer on peer abuse

A comprehensive action plan was devised by a “letting children be children” task and finish group, which was made up of LSCB partner agencies and young people from the local youth council.  The group’s outcomes were embedded into the Child Sexual Exploitation, Missing from Home and Education, Domestic Abuse and E-safety Strategies.  The action plan was also informed by: The Byron Review (2008) The Bailey Review – Letting Children be Children (2011), Sexualisation of young people review (2010), Premature sexualisation, understanding the risks (NSPCC 2011), Care versus Control (Girlguiding 2012), Standing on my own two feet, Disadvantage teenagers, intimate partner violence and coercive control (2013), to name a few.

Task and finish groups actions were as follows:

  • Quality assuring, using and promoting existing awareness raising resources
  • Producing our own resource with accompanying teaching notes on topics, such as:
    • Myths and facts around pornography
    • Advertising, media and body image
    • Rape
    • Consent
    • Gender and gender respect
    • Hyper sexualisation and hyper masculinity
    • Sexual orientation
    • Socialisation

In partnership with the healthy schools programme, guidance was given to schools on embedding these resources into the  PSHE curriculum. We already provided robust e-safety training to children and the workforce which included messages and advice around, sexting, cyberbullying, grooming, safe internet use, being a digital citizen, autonomy and bystanding.

A launch event was organised and well attended by schools, PRUs and other partner agencies. Standardised training was embedded into the LSCB calendar

Opportunities were provided via a train the trainer module for school staff to use  resources within the classroom. The overall response was that staff did not feel confident with presenting the material themselves but felt it needed to be addressed as a key component of the curriculum.

Oldham LSCB secured monies to employ a part time children’s development worker to facilitate and expand on this work. To date we have provided lessons on consent to 2975 young people, and lessons on sexing and pornography to 590 young people.

Phase 2 - Mandatory peer on peer abuse training for all LSCB members facilitated by Carlen Firmin.

This enabled us secure senior leadership buy in and to start to formulate a more coherent response to peer on peer abuse. A priority group was set up shortly after.

Phase 3 - The priority group’s action plan link into the LSCB business plan, and reports directly to the Missing from Home and Child Sexual Exploitation sub group.

Its main objectives are to:

  • Specify a baseline position of the situation in Oldham and to look at how partners work together in relation to peer on peer abuse
  • Embed lessons learned  from SCRs relating to peer on peer abuse  into practice
  • Examine the nature and extent of peer on peer abuse in Oldham and review how to better coordinate responses to this
  • Map and produce a problem profile to build a contextual understanding of local risk and vulnerabilities
  • Quality assure and pool resources and training in order  to agree who is doing what and how we can coherently build on the prevention strategy.

The group will undertake scoping work in relation to how professionals, recognise capture, share and use information about peer on peer abuser that occurs within school and education environments as part of the learning project on evidencing peer on peer abuse with the University of Bedfordshire.

By working in partnership with our colleagues from education we aim to provide young people with the opportunity and tools to explore, debate and understand the issues we highlighted. This work is firmly rooted in the PHSE curriculum, we aim to support schools with their safeguarding obligations and encourage an ethos of respect, diversity and safety. We provide learning opportunities that are relevant to needs of young people and the 21st Century society they live within.

This blog entry was written by, and reflects the views of, the author. If you would like to contact the author, please send your request to Danielle.Fritz@beds.ack

Posted: 01 Nov 2016

Author: Delphine Peace

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