A survey to establish the scale of online peer on peer sexual abuse among children of school age across Britain has been launched by the UK’s leading charity providing support to victims.

Marie Collins Foundation fears the proliferation of mobile devices being used by children is putting more young people at risk of online sexual abuse, including grooming, sexting and distribution of sexualised content among their own peers.

An area of great concern to schools and parents, despite admirable efforts of educationalists, widespread online safety education for pupils and even extra-curricula coaching for parents by some schools, cases of abuse appear to be rising.

North Yorkshire-based MCF is working with colleagues at the University of Suffolk to establish a clear picture of the scale of the issue, the experiences of schools and how well equipped headteachers and school safeguarding leads feel in their response.

A short, anonymous, online survey has been shared among headteachers and school safeguarding leads across the UK. The survey is at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/peeronpeerabuse

It aims to:

  • Identify more closely the scale and impact on schools of this type of abuse;
  • Improve understanding of the challenges schools currently face in how they respond;
  • Measure levels of confidence among professionals in how appropriately and effectively they feel able to deal with it;
  • Establish future training needs and improvements in guidance. 

The research is being led by Professor Emma Bond, Director of Research and Professor of Socio-Technical Research, University of Suffolk, and Professor Andy Phippen. 

The findings will be announced at Marie Collins Foundation’s annual international conference in London in June, attended by professionals across education, social services, law enforcement, government and industry.

The survey outcomes will also be used to improve guidance for headteachers and fed back directly to relevant government departments to help inform policy.

Marie Collins Foundation is led by founder Professor Tink Palmer MBE, who has spent more than 40 years working in the field of child sexual abuse. Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigation, sits on the charity’s Board of Trustees. 

Professor Palmer said: “While the internet has many advantages, especially for schools, there are those who abuse it and use it to commit abuse. Sadly, often through ignorance, children may unwittingly also break the law.

“For those of us working with young people, protecting them from harm is of paramount importance. We all have a vital role to play in helping to address and tackle this problem, and to work in partnership with industry, law enforcement and other professionals to protect children even further.

“This is the first national survey of its kind into how these issues are impacting on the daily life of children and schools and adding to the workload and responsibilities of educationalists. By taking part our education colleagues across the country will help us to identify the scale of the issues and contribute towards any recommendations for improvements in this area.”