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Peer on peer abuse

Peer-on-peer abuse is captured in four key definitions (Firmin, 2013)

  1. The definition for domestic abuse (Home Office 2013) relates to young people aged 16 and 17 who experience physical, emotional, sexual and/or financial abuse, and coercive control, in their intimate relationships. In reality children of a much younger age have had these experiences in their intimate relationships.
  2. The definition for child sexual exploitation (DfE, 2017) captures young people aged under 18 who are sexually abused in the context of exploitative relationships, contexts and situations by a person of any age – including another young person.
  3. The definition for young people who display harmful sexual behaviour refers to any young person, under the age of 18, who demonstrates behaviour outside of their normative parameters of development (this includes, but is not exclusive to abusive behaviours).

Serious youth violence is defined with reference to offences (as opposed to relationships/contexts) and captures all those of the most serious in nature. The term peer-on-peer abuse can refer to all of these definitions. Any response to peer on peer abuse needs to cut across these definitions and capture the complex web of young people’s experiences. In situations whereby victims of child sexual exploitation appear to also be perpetrators or facilitating the sexual exploitation of other children a nuanced approach is needed that recognises and engages with the child’s perpetration within the context of their own victimisation. It is important that children who perpetrate child sexual exploitation receive a different response to adult perpetrators. (DfE, 2017).

Our response to peer on peer abuse needs to include a holistic assessment of the needs of all of the young people involved; an assessment of the ‘perpetrator’ of the abuse will also be required if they are under the age of 18.

The assessment of risk, and subsequent interventions with young people, needs to recognise that individual experiences do not cause the abuse that they experience, but may be used by others who have power over them.

Further information/ research about peer on peer abuse can be found on the MsUnderstood partnership website.