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Learning From Young People: How Schools Can Protect Students from Peer-on-Peer Abuse

POSTED: November 27, 2020Category: ArticlesBY: AISA Admin

Authored by Katie Rigg and Dr Jenny Lloyd, Council of International Schools

Contributors: Will Gardner, Nunana Nyomi, Ann Straub, Allison Tombros Korman

What is peer-on-peer abuse?

Peer-on-peer abuse is the ‘physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control, exercised within young people’s relationships, including their intimate relationships, friendships and wider peer associations.’

Students from multiple countries and diverse cultural contexts have spoken about their experiences of peer-on-peer abuse including:

  • Being blackmailed to engage in sexual activities
  • The rape of students, including on campus, at parties and on trips
  • Being excluded from social groups because of where they come from or the languages that they speak, or don’t speak

Figure Two: students’ experiences of peer-on-peer abuse in a school setting [2]

Here are some actions you can take to prevent and identify peer-on-peer abuse at an early stage.

1. Ensure that your policies address all forms of peer-on-peer abuse

Young people often experience multiple forms of harm that can intersect and overlap with each other. Having policies that address all forms of peer-on-peer abuse, and not just anti-bullying, can be helpful.

2. Provide on-going education that enables students to identify and report harm

Providing ongoing, evidence-based social emotional skills and prevention education, tailored appropriately to the audience, is critical to helping students identify and report peer-on-peer abuse.

3. Embed values of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout your institution

Inequalities and discrimination provide fertile breeding grounds for peer-on-peer abuse. Our discussions with students in some institutions suggest that where a school has been able to embed values of diversity and equity throughout its institution, this can help to protect students from harm.

I think in our school we have a sort of culture of acceptance. It’s really part of the values to accept difference, so I think we support each other perhaps more”—Student engagement session, 2019

4. Provide multiple avenues for students to report

Providing multiple avenues for students to share concerns and prominently displaying posters around your institution can help to provide students with a language to use and can encourage reporting. Engage students in all stages of this process to ensure messages are student-led.

The counsellors are great but they are not well represented by the school. Their office is hidden and far away, you have to make an appointment and it feels like something is wrong with you or you are sick if you go to a counsellor, it should be normal”—Student engagement session, 2020

5. Learn from your students

If schools want to ensure that their responses to peer-on-peer abuse are relevant and effective, it is critical that they learn from students. For example, small group sessions with students, student wellbeing surveys and location mapping exercises can all help you to identify harm within your school.

School safety mapping

Any consultation with students should be done safely and ethically. The International Taskforce on Child Protection is preparing guidance on this topic.

6. Review the ways in which you record concerns

There should be secure and confidential ways for all staff to report concerns, and for these to be recorded. Digital systems which allow for the triangulation of data, tracking trends and recording locations and times, are helpful. A small number of senior staff should have oversight of safeguarding and behaviour records in order to identify patterns at an early stage and understand when behaviour may indicate a safeguarding issue.

For more in-depth guidance, please see the full article.

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