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Children sexually assaulted by classmates

Thousands of children are being sexually bullied and even assaulted in school, an investigation has found.

Julie Henry, Telegraph, UK, 4 Jan 2009

Children, some as young as four, have been victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct ranging from name calling, inappropriate touching to serious sexual attacks.

Groping and the use of sexually-abusive nicknames have become almost part of daily life for some pupils, according to BBC One's Panorama.

Testimony from two young girls who were left traumatised after being sexually assaulted by classmates is featured in the programme, to be broadcast tomorrow.

In most cases, offenders are not expelled. Official figures show that 3,500 pupils were excluded for sexual misconduct in 2007 - equating to 19 exclusions per school day - including 260 cases in primary schools. Sexual misconduct can cover anything from sexually explicit graffiti to rape.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families does not routinely publish a breakdown of reasons for permanent exclusions but the number kicked out of school for sexual offences is small.

"We are receiving more calls about this on our help-line," said Michele Elliott, the director of anti-bullying charity Kidscape. "It is alarming that children as young as 10 and 11 feel that they can dominate and bully others by the use of inappropriate sexual touching. In some bullying gangs it is used as an initiation."

"We had a case where two boys in an inner city school who were constantly bullying a girl, eventually pulled her in to the boys' room and pulled her pants down."

"Children see sexual misconduct all around them in the footballers and celebrities they admire and look up to. That has something to do with the problem, as has the reluctance of parents to pull kids up for inappropriate behaviour."

The programme reveals that many incidents could be going unreported because pupils learn to accept inappropriate behaviour.

One teenager said:

"After a while, I know it sounds really weird, but you just learn to deal with it."

A 13-year-old girl described how she was a victim of a sexual assault after months of inappropriate comments and touching by a boy in her class. After reporting the assault, she was shunned by her friends who felt she should have kept quiet.

"One of them said I'd be the most hated girls in school, why should I be doing this? He does it to everyone. His friends, they think of it as funny," she said.

Another teenager was forced to move schools after being subjected to a serious assault by a group of boys. Her father described how she was lured in to a classroom before school started by fellow pupils and forced to perform a sex act on one while the others watched. The boys were later prosecuted and given custodial sentences.

Paula Telford, children's services manager at the NSPCC, said the charity had treated victims and perpetrators as young as four years old.

"Schools react to sexual misconduct with a range of responses," she said. "Some schools will identify the problem, manage risk and take the appropriate action. Others panic."

"They are scared and don't know how to deal with it. They are frightened of other parents' reaction to an incident. Excluding children is a response but it does not deal with the core problem or help to manage the risk elsewhere."

"That is why the NSPCC is campaigning for the Government to develop a strategic response to the issue of sexually hurtful and inappropriate behaviour among children. We want to see detailed guidance and training for teachers and other practitioners."

The programme explores the sexualisation of childhood and how gang culture, music, the internet and TV are affecting how young people view the world.

* Panorama: Kids Behaving Badly, Monday 5th January 2009, 8.30pm, BBC One

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