Police investigated at least 1,000 cases in schools over past three years, some involving five-year-olds
More than 5,500 alleged sex offences in UK schools were reported to the police in the past three years.
Figures obtained following a Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio 5 Live reveal that these included nearly 4,000 indecent assaults and more than 600 rapes. More than 1,500 victims were under 13 and most were primary and secondary school pupils. At least a fifth of the reports related to abuse carried out by other children. In some cases the victim and the abuser were both as young as five.
Shannon Rooney, who has waived her right to anonymity, told how she was attacked in a storeroom by a fellow pupil when she was 15. “I said ‘no’ and he pulled me in, shut the door, and started to sexually assault me,” she said. “Parents believe that you are safe in school and that nothing bad is going to happen, but this changes your whole outlook as to what school is.”
Her attacker pleaded guilty and initially received an absolute discharge, but was given a year’s community service and put on the sex offenders’ register after an appeal. Another victim, who did not want to be identified, said he was sexually assaulted in a classroom by three of his friends when he was 15.
“My abusers were the most popular boys in the school – they played on all the sports teams,” he said. “The principal at the time tried to put it down to ‘rugby locker-room banter’ and didn’t seem surprised at all.”
A total of 60 children in England were expelled for sexual misconduct in schools in 2013-14, says the Department for Education. There were no exclusions in Wales and Scotland. Figures for Northern Ireland were not available.
Jon Brown, head of sexual abuse programmes at the NSPCC, blamed hardcore pornography being made available to children.
“Sadly, we are not surprised, as previous NSPCC research has illustrated the scale of abuse committed by young people,” Brown said. “We know that, for some older children, accessing hardcore pornography is warping their view of what is acceptable behaviour.
“And the very young, those of primary school age or even younger, may be copying sexual activity they have witnessed.”
Chief constable Simon Bailey, head of child protection at the National Police Chiefs Council, said the problem might be worse than the figures suggested. “I believe these figures are the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It is good news that more victims have the confidence to … report abuse, although, while I cannot prove this, I believe more child abuse is taking place. That includes children being raped on school premises.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said schools and adults working with children needed to be more alert to abuse taking place: “Every child needs to understand what is inappropriate or illegal behaviour.”