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Thousands of youths sexually abused at school each year, inquiry finds

Published 06/09/2015

The NSPCC said the figures were
The NSPCC said the figures were "very disturbing"

Thousands of children, some as young as five, are sexually abused at school every year, an investigation has revealed.

More than 5,500 sex offences in schools across the UK were reported to the police in the last three years.

This reportedly includes nearly 4,000 indecent assaults and more than 600 rapes, according to figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 Live.

More than 1,500 victims were aged under 13 and most were primary and secondary school pupils.

At least a fifth of the crimes were carried out by other children and in some cases the victim and abuser were both as young as five.

Shannon Rooney, who has waived her right to anonymity, described 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," Shannon, from Stirlingshire, Scotland, 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, according to the Department of 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 available to children as the cause.

"These figures are very disturbing, especially as many victims are so young and the reported offences took place on school premises," he added.

"Sadly, we are not surprised as previous NSPCC research has illustrated the scale of abuse committed by young people.

"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 may be even worse than the figures show.

He said: "I believe these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

"It is good news that more victims have the confidence to come forward and 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 other adults working with children must be more alert to abuse taking place.

"I want personal social health economic education with a relationships and sex component to be part of the national curriculum," she added.

"Every child needs to understand what is inappropriate or illegal behaviour."

A Department for Education spokesman said statutory guidance is "crystal clear" that anyone with concerns about a pupil's welfare should "swiftly" refer it to local authorities or the police.

The information was provided by UK police forces in response to a BBC 5 Live freedom of information request.

It reflects figures obtained in 2013 during a similar investigation by the Press Association.

:: The investigation will be aired on BBC 5 Live at 11am on Sunday.

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