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Towards a contextual response to peer-on-peer abuse

Research and resources from MsUnderstood local site work 2013 -2016

Over recent years concern has grown amongst policymakers, practitioners and academics regarding violence and abuse within young people’s friendships and relationships - termed ‘peer-on-peer abuse’ for the purposes of this report. In 2013 the Government amended the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17 year olds in recognition of young people’s experiences of partner abuse and exploitation. In 2016 a Parliamentary Inquiry was launched into sexual harassment and violence in schools and the Department for Education provided additional information on peer-on-peer abuse within its Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance. The 2016 Ofsted Social Care report made note of the increasing concerns regarding peer-on-peer abuse and the need for holistic responses to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in order to accommodate this.This growing political interest has emerged from an ever-increasing evidence base on the scale and nature of peer-on-peer abuse in the UK. In a 2009 survey of young people in England a quarter of girls and 18% of boys reported experiencing physical violence from a partner before they turned 18 (Barter, et al., 2009). Once the Crime Survey was extended to include 10-15 year olds in 2013 the ONS estimated that young people experienced 465,000 incidents of violent crime in a year, the vast majority of which (79%) had been perpetrated by another young person (ONS, 2015). Surveys over the past five years estimate that between 30 and 70% of young women have been sexually harassed at school (EVAW, 2010; GirlGuiding UK, 2014). An evidence hearing at the London Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime in 2015 heard that the majority of identified sexual exploitation cases in the capital were peer-on-peer (MOPAC, 2015) – and nationwide a third of cases are thought to fit such a profile (Firmin, 2013). Far from being a ‘new’ issue, a 2011 survey of adult survivors of child sexual abuse in England and Wales found that two-thirds of them had been abused by a peer and not an adult (Radford et al. 2011).In the face of this growing concern, in 2013 the University of Bedfordshire, Imkaan and the Girls against Gangs Project formed the MsUnderstood Partnership (MSU) to support the development of responses to peer-on-peer abuse specifically, and young people’s experiences of inequality, more broadly. The partnership sought to bring academic rigour, partnerships with practitioners and young people’s voices to the fore of the debate, and generate practice-based evidence to support the development of responses that engaged with young people’s lived realities of violence and abuse. We achieved this through:

  • A programme of work with local multi-agency partnerships to audit and develop their responses to peer-on-peer abuse (Local Site Work)
  • A paid internship and young people’s engagement programme
  • Engagement in policy consultation and influencing
  • The dissemination of research, practice learning and young people’s voice

This report chronicles the findings and resources generated by MSU over the past three years, with specific reference to the tools and knowledge created alongside professionals through local site work. The programme of work was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Samworth Foundation and Trust for London.