Rape of six-year-old child 'dismissed by teachers as playful activity'

2nd November 2017 at 18:09
Chair of Women and Equalities Committee attacks government for lack of action to tackle peer-on-peer abuse in schools

The rape of a six-year-old girl at school by a male classmate was dismissed by teachers as "playful activity", the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has said.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate this afternoon on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, Maria Miller attacked the government for a lack of action to combat peer on peer abuse in schools.

Ms Miller told MPs that she had heard from two parents this week whose children had been raped at school.

“Mrs X told me about the rape of her six-year-old daughter at school by a male classmate, that was simply dismissed by teachers as 'playful activity'," she said.

"There was no central record of the incident because of the age of the children under the age of criminal responsibility – and certainly no support for the victim as a result.

“What Mrs X would like to see is that school guidance should specifically state that the child – no matter how young – should be protected in the same way that we might protect an adult who had gone through a rape or assault as her daughter had, and that victims should never face the prospect of having to go to school again with those who have abused or even raped them.”

Government failures

Tes first reported in March cases where victims of sexual assault had been placed back into the classroom with their alleged attackers. Child safety campaigners have linked this to a failure by the government to issue detailed guidance to schools on how they should deal with peer-on-peer abuse.

Ms Miller also said she'd heard from a father whose daughter had been raped at school. The father said the availability of extreme pornography via mobile devices had distorted children's perceptions about what constitutes healthy sexual behaviour. 

"He described girls as young as 12 encouraging each other to sext their peer group, sending sexual images of themselves by mobile phone...being encouraged to have anal sex by their classmates," Ms Miller said.

"His observation as a father was: 'They have no idea they are experiencing sexual abuse if their first frame of reference is viewing extreme pornography – then spanking and being given a dog collar to wear round their neck is not out of the normal.'"

Sexual harassment in schools

Ms Miller said that while her Committee published a report highlighting sexual harassment and abuse in schools more than a year ago, the government had failed to act.

“What has actually changed in our schools? Nothing," she said.

She pointed out that, although the government had set up an advisory group to look at updating its Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory safeguarding guidance, the group had "only met twice", and even when changes are finally agreed "it will take a full academic year to come into force".

Contrasting the lack of action with the government's speedy response to the Westminster sexual harassment scandal, Ms Miller asked: “Why can we take action here in a matter of days but it takes a full year to put safeguards in place for our children?"

Responding for the government in the debate, DfE minister Anne Milton said: "There will be more directive guidance...but action sadly in some ways does need to be taken on a case-by-case basis."

"But schools have to recognise that referrals to the police in the issue of serious sexual assault is not the end of the matter," she added.

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