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.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.
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.
The section of the school's policy on recognising signs of sexual abuse is not much better.
Again, the London Child Protection Procedures has it rather better stated, in clauses 4.3.19 to 4.3.24, as follows.
- 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
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.Several things to notice here:
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:
4.3.23 Physical indicators associated with 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).
4.3.24 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.
- 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.
- 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.