OPINION: We'll listen to children who've been harassed or abused in school
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Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, locals campaigns manager for the NHS says not all children want to go public with their story
The recent disclosures on the Everyone’s Invited website of sexual abuse and misogyny in education settings sent a shockwave through us all.
This is a watershed moment, made possible by the bravery of those willing to speak up not only for themselves but, through their courage, empowering others to seek support and advice too.
Their testimonies needed to be heard, and in response the NSPCC has been commissioned by the Department of Education to set up an independent helpline for children, parents and professionals.
Our new helpline, Report Abuse in Education, is for children and young people who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse at school, and it is also for worried adults and professionals that need support and guidance. It takes incredible bravery to speak out, especially when it comes to taking that first step and telling someone.
For some they may wish to formally report abuse and for others it may mean coming forward and simply speaking to someone about their experiences for the first time, after years or even decades of silence. Our staff are here to listen, without judgement and can help callers take the next step, whatever this may be.
This issue though is bigger than schools, between one third and two-thirds of sexual offences against children are perpetrated by peers. It has also been estimated that about half of all victims of child sexual abuse are teenagers and girls are at significantly greater risk than boys.
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But we also believe this subject is an under researched issue as many young people don’t always report abuse or even recognise it when it happens to them and this also needs to change. It is also why we must all take this moment to talk to our children about what constitutes a healthy relationship, to help them recognise the signs of abuse and to let them know there is always someone available to share their concerns and worries with.
This moment is an opportunity too, to reaffirm the NSPCC’s calls on the Government to ensure teachers have the right support with a proper investment in compulsory relationships and sex education.
With the right investment, and by building the confidence of teachers to confront this issue we can help build a culture in all educational settings that fosters healthy relationships and a safe community free from sexual violence.
We all have a role to play in keeping children safe.
It’s vital a child or young person is always heard and feels understood.
Parents and carers can help keep their children safe by having regular informal chats about what is and isn’t a healthy relationship, regular communication is a good place to begin. We have lots of help and advice in how to start these, sometimes, difficult conversations on the NSPCC website.
Such as when to have these conversations, for example, in a casual setting such as on a walk or using an appropriate moment when watching TV to point out unhealthy behaviours in a character.
But sometimes, for whatever reason, children and young people struggle to open up to their parents about how they’re feeling.
And so, if your child would prefer to talk to someone else, please let them know Childline is here and they can call us or speak to us online.
On the Childline website, they can use our message boards to find support from their peers in a safe, moderated environment.
Our Report Abuse in Education helpline is also there for them as well.
Just like Childline, this NSPCC helpline has trained counsellors to help children and young people navigate any abuse and harassment they may have been subjected to at school, college or other educational settings.
If any young person would like to contact this helpline, they can call 0800 136 663 for support or email firstname.lastname@example.org if they prefer to write down their experiences.