Sky News has recently reported that a survey has revealed more than a third of teachers know schoolchildren who have been sexually harassed by other pupils. Although this is a subject we would prefer not to dwell on – the sexual abuse of children by children is not a new story.
Most of us, if we think back to our school days, can probably recall an incident of high jinks or more likely a “behind the bike shed” story probably embellished in the telling. At the time such incidents whether real or exaggerated were put down to youthful adventurism or “messing about”. In hindsight, it may well be that indecent assaults may have committed.
This leads me to my experiences in the courts as a lawyer, because it is a truism that sexual offences committed by children are not a new phenomenon. What is changing as reported in the article is the extent of the behaviour and the numbers potentially involved. I see cases where very young children are exhibiting what is described as sexualised behaviour and are acting this out sometimes on other young children.
Many of these children have come from troubled backgrounds and have been sexually abused themselves by adults or other children. In most cases, once taken away from this damaging environment the sexualised behaviour ceases, but for some children, it does not. This can be very challenging for the carers, teachers and other professionals. It is, of course, troubling if not downright concerning for the parents of the innocent children who fall victim to the attention of the child acting out what they themselves have experienced.
The children affected require specialised treatment and care to overcome the damage. In the meantime, though they have to be educated, and cared for, and this clearly poses a challenge for schools and teachers.
There is no easy answer to resolving these issues but the fact that the news story has highlighted the realities can only be to the good so as to ensure that it is in the public consciousness.
Older children are already in the public eye because of the issues surrounding “sexting” and the general misuse of the internet and social media. This is a challenge for all societies because the potential harm is not going to go away. On the contrary, as social media becomes increasingly complex the ability to groom children, and for them to innocently or deliberately misuse it, increases. Only through the use of criminal and civil sanctions will the unacceptability of such behaviour become understood and appreciated.