Do some forms of schoolyard bullying actually amount to sexual violence? MP Chris Skidmore rounds up the latest education select committee debates. This is from the Telegraph…
This week the Education Select Committee held a one-off evidence session to look at the Interim Report of the Office of the Children’s inquiry into child exploitation. Published last November, the report sought for the first time to present an accurate figure of the victims of child sexual exploitation over a 14 month period – 2,409 confirmed victims, with 16,500 children being identified as being at risk.
The report has not been without controversy. Newspaper reports quoted an ‘unnamed government source’ stating that the report was ‘hysterical and half-baked’ while other sources suggested that the department was concerned that the report played down the ethnicity of the ‘perpetrators’ of abuse.
The evidence we received from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, was quick to highlight that our general understanding of the issue has been distorted by the tabloids. But she also highlighted just how far we are behind in tracking the evidence to make an accurate assessment of child sexual exploitation in this country – and who exactly are the gangs that are involved in such horrific abuse.
In particular, police evidence seems to have solely tracked only abuse from ethnic gangs against white girls, creating a distorted picture when the report’s findings make clear that the situation is far more complex, with young girls being passed from gang to gang, of multiple ethnicities.
Perhaps more controversial were Ms Berelowitz’s comments to the committee that “we are encountering a reluctance certainly in some schools to face up to the fact that some of the bullying that takes place within the school environment actually amounts to sexual exploitation, certainly sexual violence”.
While mentioning examples of good practice, she told the committee that other schools were reluctant to admit that child sexual exploitation might be taking place behind the school gates, “because the heads there are worried that people think there’s a problem in their schools.”
Listening to her evidence, as the report states, you can’t help but feel that as the Office of the Children’s Commissioner continues its work into the report over the next two years, this is ‘tip of the iceberg’ stuff, and tragically there will be more horrific stories to emerge.