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Child sexual abuse committed in schools was open secret, survivors tell Inquiry

17 December 2020

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research into child sexual abuse in schools, which finds that perpetrators frequently had reputations as abusers and their behaviour was often an ‘open secret’.

The report is based on the statistical analysis of 691 accounts of victims and survivors who were sexually abused in the context of schools and came forward to the Truth Project. Seventeen accounts were analysed in further detail.  The report looks at experiences of sexual abuse across a wide range of school settings including residential, non-residential, state, independent and others. Data from these participants is shown alongside 3,578 participants whose experiences of sexual abuse did not occur in the context of schools.

The research found the majority of perpetrators were male teachers or other educational staff, with victims and survivor accounts revealing that abusers often manipulated and groomed children, staff and parents in order to facilitate the sexual abuse.The perpetrators often had good reputations with staff and parents, or were seen as ‘cool’ by pupils.

The research also found nearly half of participants who were sexually abused in the context of schools were aware of other victims in the same school, almost double those who were sexually abused in other contexts. Also a greater proportion of participants who attended residential schools reported sexual abuse by their peers, physical abuse, psychological abuse and bullying than participants who attended non-residential schools.

Some victims and survivors believed that they were in “relationships” with the perpetrators, some of which extended for years after the participants had left school. These participants were conflicted for many years into adulthood about the ‘relationship’ and recognising it as sexual abuse. Some six percent of participants reported that they did not disclose the sexual abuse because they thought the perpetrator loved them.

Victims and survivors suggested changes such as schools having a legal responsibility to investigate sexual abuse allegations, educating children on relationships, sex and abuse from a young age, and providing school staff with better child protection training.

This report will inform the Inquiry’s investigation into residential schools, which heard evidence during public hearings this year. That investigation report will be published in autumn 2021.

David, A Truth Project participant said:

“In the months and years following the abuse my grades tanked in all subjects except the one taught by my abuser'. I had to sit in his lessons with him knowingly smiling at me while trying to coax me down to his house again.”

“At times I felt flooded with so many thoughts I couldn’t concentrate and at other times I felt like I was floating above life and in a dream. Those feelings stay with me to this day.”

"After speaking to The Truth Project I felt like the spotlight had been turned off me and I finally started to realise that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for this. I hadn’t done anything wrong."

“This research shows how important it is that children are properly safeguarded in schools, both now and in the future.”

Principal researcher Dr Sophia King said:

“Schools should be somewhere that children feel safe and protected, but this report shows a very different picture. 

“Almost half of those who reported being sexually abused in school knew of other victims in the same school, which is far higher than participants who were sexually abused in other contexts.

“Some victims thought they were in love with their abuser and were conflicted for many years into adulthood, with lasting impacts on their education, employment and social life.”

The Inquiry’s Truth Project is closing in 2021, but for now it is still open for survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experiences in writing, over the phone, by video call or in person. Please register before the end of this year for in-person sessions. Visit www.truthproject.org.uk for more information or email share@iicsa.org.uk.

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