Monday, 21 March 2011

Definitions of sexual abuse

The definition of sexual abuse in the new St. Augustine's child protection policy is as follows.
Sexual abuse can take many forms and while it is important to warn children about stranger abuse it should be remembered that up to 85% of children who are abused or assaulted are abused/assaulted by someone they know or a member of their family. Sexual abuse occurs when a child is forced or encouraged to behave in a sexually inappropriate way.
This is terrible. It tells you next to nothing about what sexual abuse is. That 85% number provides no information whatsoever which contributes to a definition, but it predisposes people to think that if a child is showing any signs of sexual abuse, then it's probably coming from the family.

This is the definition of sexual abuse from paragraphs 4.2.6 to 4.2.8 of the London Child Protection Procedures
4.2.6 Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative (e.g. rape, buggery or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts.

4.2.7 Sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003. See section 5.23. ICT-based forms of abuse, section 5.39. Sexually active children and section 5.40. Sexually exploited children.

4.2.8 Sexual abuse includes non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of pornographic materials, watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
Most of that could be included verbatim in the school's policy. There's no reason not to. But instead, the school has spent nearly a year revising the policy and has managed to get an absolutely key and central definition so wrong that it is worse than useless, it is positively misleading.

The section of the school's policy on recognising signs of sexual abuse is not much better.
  • Sexual knowledge or behaviour that is unusually explicit or inappropriate for the child’s age/stage of development
  • Sexual risk taking behaviour including involvement in sexual exploitation/older boyfriend
    Continual, inappropriate or excessive masturbation
  • Physical symptoms such as injuries to genital or anal area or bruising, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy
  • Unwillingness to undress for sports
Again, the London Child Protection Procedures has it rather better stated, in clauses 4.3.19 to 4.3.24, as follows.
4.3.19 Sexual abuse can be very difficult to recognise and reporting sexual abuse can be an extremely traumatic experience for a child. Therefore both identification and disclosure rates are deceptively low.

4.3.20 Boys and girls of all ages may be sexually abused and are frequently scared to say anything due to guilt and / or fear. According to a recent study three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. Twenty-seven percent of the children told someone later, and around a third (31%) still had not told anyone about their experience/s by early adulthood.

4.3.21 If a child makes an allegation of sexual abuse, it is very important that they are taken seriously. Allegations can often initially be indirect as the child tests the professional’s response. There may be no physical signs and indications are likely to be emotional / behavioural.

4.3.22 Behavioural indicators which may help professionals identify child sexual abuse include:
  • Inappropriate sexualised conduct;
  • Sexually explicit behaviour, play or conversation, inappropriate to the child’s age;
  • Contact or non-contact sexually harmful behaviour;
  • Continual and inappropriate or excessive masturbation;
  • Self-harm (including eating disorder), self mutilation and suicide attempts;
  • Involvement in sexual exploitation or indiscriminate choice of sexual partners;
  • An anxious unwillingness to remove clothes for e.g. sports events (but this may be related to cultural norms or physical difficulties).
4.3.23 Physical indicators associated with child sexual abuse include:
  • Pain or itching of genital area;
  • Blood on underclothes;
  • Pregnancy in a child;
  • Physical symptoms such as injuries to the genital or anal area, bruising to buttocks, abdomen and thighs, sexually transmitted disease, presence of semen on vagina, anus, external genitalia or clothing.
4.3.24 Sex offenders have no common profile, and it is important for professionals to avoid attaching any significance to stereotypes around their background or behaviour. While media interest often focuses on ‘stranger danger’, research indicates that as much as 80 per cent of sexual offending occurs in the context of a known relationship, either family, acquaintance or colleague.
Several things to notice here:
  • This is a much more complete list of possible symptoms.
  • It starts with warnings about how abuse is difficult to diagnose. 
  • It correctly offers alternative possible explanations for an unwillingness to undress for sports - differing cultural norms, or physical difficulties. 
  • It puts the percentage of abuse cases where the abuser is known to the victim (included in the definition in the St. Augustine's policy) in the proper context of avoiding stereotypes regarding the background and behaviour of abusers

It is hard to believe that the school has updated its child protection procedures without consulting the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board. And Ealing follows the London Child Protection procedures. So the current version of the London Child Protection procedures ought to be a standard reference for the school when preparing its own procedures. At the website I indicated above, you can even download individual chapters of the document in Word format so that you can quickly and easily copy and paste relevant paragraphs into your own document.

But St. Augustine's hasn't done that. Why not?

So, let's summarise so far. St. Augustine's has a vague and misleading definition of sexual abuse, an incomplete and misleading list of symptoms of sexual abuse, and a reporting procedure that offers far too much wriggle room to the Designated Teacher (i.e. the headmistress, Mrs Gumley Mason) in deciding whether to report allegations or incidents to the LADO.

This policy could hardly be more likely to fail to spot sexual abuse occurring within the school had it been specifically designed with that purpose in mind. And this is the improved policy created in response to the ISI's criticisms. It took them nearly a year to come up with this rubbish.

I know Mrs Gumley Mason reads this blog, so she will have come across my similar criticisms of the definition of sexual abuse and signs of sexual abuse sections of the St. Benedict's child protection policy. The shortcomings in the policies of both schools are eerily similar.

Also eerily similar is both schools' response to the ISI criticisms, to make the most minimal changes to their child protection policy that they felt they could get away with, while leaving themselves as much wriggle room as possible. It took St. Benedict's three attempts before they produced a policy that was sufficiently improved that the DfE and ISI would leave them alone for a bit. The St. Augustine's policy is about the same standard, i.e. still pretty useless. This is not the action of a school which has safeguarding as a high priority.


  1. Mr West,

    You put the posts up on your blog at irregular times! Yesterday I posted in the morning and it did not appear until the afternoon. I posted at 1am this morning and now at 7am, there is no sign of my post.

    I know it is probably because you are sleeping and I know you have probably had nightmares about sexual abuse, but I need to be assured that you will post my identity if I choose to reveal it. It is probably the most unwise decision in my life but I am drawn to your website like a moth to a flame.

    There is something about your dream of ridding abuse in schools through regulation that compels me to continue contributing. I am drawn to your dream world and you are the knight in shining armour in that world.

    I despise your methods of personal vindictive attack but, as one of your fellow bloggers (aka you) said, what other method is there? I will run that gauntlet.

    I just need your promise that you will post the answer when I reveal my identity. I must go now as I have to get the children ready to go to school.

    Anonymous 04.47

  2. Anonymous 04:47

    I shall post your identity when you reveal it However, I shall publish no more of your comments unless and until you reveal your identity as you promised.

  3. 04.47 I despise your methods of personal vindictive attack but, as one of your fellow bloggers (aka you) said, what other method is there? I will run that gauntlet.

    You are referring to my post - I am not West, but I am familiar with what he is doing, this subject matter, and blogging. It is the only solution to those schools which will not engage on this subject and have never engaged, until one metaphorically lays siege to the gates.

    What Mr West is doing is a response to the entirely self-inflicted state of affairs in which the St Augustine’s administration finds itself as a result of treating 'safeguarding' as a tiresome optional extra that requires little attention (coz it doesn’t happen here! - except something did happen there.).

    How much more inept, bone idle and law breaking can the administration of St Augustine’s be on safeguarding. And then the school has the effrontery to complain about its treatment following the ISI dissing the standard of safeguarding in the place.

    You could not make it up. And here you are attempting to defend the indefensible and sadly you will not be the last individual to attempt such foolishness.

    But you also do not stick to your word. This tells us the standards to which you, and probably your children operate because let’s not forget honesty is learned behaviour.

  4. The Trouble with the Law &
    The Scale of Child Abuse Problem

    It is estimated that the average career perpetrator abuses 180+ children in a lifetime. (Police)

    1 in 6 children are sexually abused before 16yrs (Lucy Faithfull Foundation) which of course does not include physical or emotional abuse. The recent Dispatches programme (Lessons in Hate and Violence) and the failure of the Inspectorate to see any of the violence being dispensed against pupils was quite an eye opener.

    40% of all sex crimes reported to the police involve children (Home Office)

    This figure is of huge concern given that children account for only 27% of the population.

    Only 10% of child abuse crimes are reported to the Police (Lancet report Nov 2008)

    Only 5% of those reach court.

    Only 2% result in convictions.

    Adult rape achieves the dismal conviction rate of 5%, with the judiciary under constant pressure to raise this rate.

    No wonder the “Soft Box” on the CRB returns is so important.

    What has changed and still needs more change is an understanding of the extent to which abuse of children is an epidemic in this country.

    EXTRACT from Sunday Times Article 25th October 2009 CHILD ABUSE – "The camera doesn’t lie." Home Office figures for 2007-8 show that 40% of recorded sexual offences in the UK in that period were against children under 18: a quarter were under 10. In more than 800 cases, the victim was under four. And Ministry of Justice statistics reveal that in 2007, 1,178 people were found guilty of sexual offences against children.” (conviction rates are only 2% which sadly offers perpetrators an excellent risk/reward ratio)

    Increase in Notifications under the Education Acts – now called Referrals under the SVGA 2006, and made to the Independent Safeguarding Authority - these are the statutory documents you recall, that St Benedict's and St Augustine’s failed to return to the DfE (at the time) following incidents at the school that were discovered by the ISI:

    2001 1,007
    2003 1,147 +12%
    2004 1,362 +26%
    2005 2,092 +53%
    2006 2,784 +33%
    2007 4,265 +53%
    2008 8,728 +104%

    What we are seeing is not necessarily an increase in abuse, but the extent to which incidents in education have in the past been been under reported, combined with more schools becoming safeguarding aware.

    Effective and well managed safeguarding is vital. And it is the role of parents to hold schools to account. To do this it is vital to understand the child protection policy of the school. Unless a school commits in writing to report all incidents of abuse to the LADO (15.2.1. of the Ealing Safeguarding Board Guidance) a school has no need to refer at all, because England does not have mandatory reporting of abuse. It is one of the very few first world countries not to have mandatory reporting. It is therefore vital to have this written undertaking in all school policies – otherwise parents, and more importantly children have nothing.

  5. 04.47 getting children ready for school! I don't think so more than likely getting dear Andy ready for school, the unofficial headmaster.

  6. But let's not forget - a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

    Gummers believes this according to a woman's hour interview in which she was a non 'saucy' contributor.

    So what does this quote say about Andy (Chancey Gardener) Gumley Mason?


  7. It seems to me that St Augustine's is in a hugely messy position because of the arrogant and misguided self-belief of two very seriously mentally ill people who are now beginning to drag others down with them.
    Professor Anne Hemingway could very easily see her reputation, built up through many years of service, eroded and her good name tainted by association with Frances Gumley Mason's lies and deceit.
    Fee-paying parents have been lied to and the law has been broken. And what has been the response? To insult everyone's intelligence trying to confuse us by putting out two reports together, to write a patronising letter aimed at discouraging parents from reading either report properly, and in this letter to trivialise the failings. Not to offer a word of apology or any real explanation in layman's terms but instead to distract with terms like 'central register', which means nothing to most parents.
    And only under pressure from Mr West does she offer a forum for parents, and even then we receive a similarly patronising message through parent-mail,as if it's none of it anything so out of the ordinary,and cynically a Friday night is chosen in the hope everyone will be just wanting to put their feet up and not fancy turning out for this meeting where inevitably black will be made to look white and more half-truths will be told.
    It's really enough to make you despair of everything the school is supposed to stand for.
    This is shameful behaviour and a piss-poor example to the girls in the school.
    Frances Gumley Mason, are there no depths to which you will not sink in the service of your own ego, nor anyone you will not trample to get what you want?
    Shame on you! Shame, shame.

  8. FGM is a bully and a few ex colleuges suffered a great loss namely there jobs when they stood up to her. She will make your life Absolute Hell if you attempt to criticise her or stand up to her. She has had a complete free reign. Also I have been told that the original report opened with "Little evidence of Leadership from the top". What happened to this part of the report ?? back at the beginning of the year