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Safeguarding: Peer on Peer Abuse

Peer on Peer Abuse

It is important to recognise that abuse isn’t always perpetrated by adults; children can abuse other children too. This is referred to as peer-on-peer abuse and can include:

  • Bullying (including online/cyberbullying)
  • Sexual violence and sexual harassment (including online)
  • Physical abuse (such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting etc)
  • 'Sexting' (also known as 'youth produced/involved sexual imagery' or sharing 'nude or semi-nude' imagery)
  • Initiations, hazing type violence and social rituals


Bullying is a type of behaviour, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group. If left unaddressed, bullying at school can have a serious impact on a young person’s mental health, self-esteem and ability to thrive in education.

Bullying can/may:

  • Be physical abuse, such as: hitting, kicking, shaking, biting
  • Be emotional abuse, such as: name calling, spreading rumours or social inclusion
  • Involve intimidation or threats of violence
  • Involve racial, sexual or homophobic abuse
  • Be perpetrated by an individual or a group
  • Take place online or via technology (aka cyberbullying)
  • Be motivated by real or perceived differences
  • Involve an imbalance of power
  • Disproportionately impact children with SEN and disabilities

The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 and Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 both require schools and education settings to prevent bullying amongst pupils through the implementation of an effective anti-bullying policy.

Where bullying outside school is reported to school staff, it should be investigated and acted on "to such an extent as is reasonable", in accordance with the school’s anti-bullying policy; this includes cases of cyberbullying.

Useful links to further information and support on bullying and behaviour management:

Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Between Children in Schools and Colleges

Sexual violence refers to crimes under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and includes rape, assault by penetration and sexual assault; whilst sexual harassment incorporates a wider range of ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’, such as: sexual comments or lewd “jokes”, sexualised bullying, non-consensual taking or sharing of sexual images/videos (such as upskirting), or physical behaviour such as: deliberately brushing against someone or ‘pinging’ bra straps.

‘Upskirting’ involves taking a picture under someone’s clothing without them knowing; this is usually with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks for sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm.  It is a criminal offence. Anyone of any gender, can be a victim.

Sexual violence and sexual harassment can/may:

  • Occur between two children of any age and sex
  • Be physical and/or verbal
  • Occur online and/or offline
  • Be perpetrated by individuals or groups, against individuals or groups
  • Be a standalone incident, or part of a wider pattern of sexualised behaviour
  • Be perpetrated against some children more than others, such as: girls, children with SEND or LGBT children.

Children who are victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment may feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and will probably find the experience stressful and distressing; this is likely to adversely affect their educational engagement and attainment.

Schools and settings should clearly communicate and demonstrate that this type of behaviour is/will not:

  • Acceptable
  • Tolerated
  • An inevitable part of growing up
  • Be dismissed as “banter” or normalised.

When responding to a concern about sexual violence or harassment between children, it is important that all victims are taken seriously and offered appropriate support. Staff should follow their usual child protection procedures and follow the referral process.

As of the 1st April 2021, the DfE have commissioned the NSPCC to run a bespoke helpline to provide appropriate support and advice to victims of sexual abuse in education and concerned adults. Young people and adults can contact the NSPCC helpline, 'Report Abuse in Education' on 0800 136 663 or email