Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Safe inside? Child sexual abuse in the youth secure estate

Perceived risk of child sexual abuse

Both staff and children perceived that the risk and opportunity for child sexual abuse to occur in their respective establishments was low. There was a widely accepted belief among children that child sexual abuse ‘couldn’t happen here’ or ‘wouldn’t happen to me’. This was perceived to be due to the range of prevention measures and protective factors in place, most notably meaningful positive relationships between children and staff.

However, these perceptions must be considered in the context of children’s understanding of child sexual abuse as well as the behavioural ‘norms’ that manifest in this environment. Children had a limited understanding of child sexual abuse and the range of behaviours constituting it. Education on this topic was not offered to all children as standard and was instead limited to targeted interventions for those who had been identified as needing particular support in this area. Children acknowledged that they knew little about this topic and were open to receiving more education to increase their general knowledge, and enable them to identify sexual abuse and sexually harmful behaviours. Children could see the value of having more education around healthy sexual relationships to provide them with knowledge they could take forward when they leave the secure environment.

Children were not always clear or confident about the appropriateness of behaviours between children. They had to decipher and negotiate the different rules and boundaries of behaviour that each establishment enforced. The impact of being in a secure environment also had certain negative implications for children whereby behaviours that were identified as inappropriate could come to be seen as acceptable in this environment, for example the frequent use of sexual ‘banter’. These ‘norms’ in the secure environment had implications for how children would respond to sexual abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviour experienced by themselves or others in these settings, and if and what they would report. Child sexual abuse was not reported as a concern and children perceived the risk of this as being low. Some were experiencing sexual behaviours that made them feel uncomfortable but these were not viewed as harmful or potentially abusive. Experiences of sexualised behaviour was a particularly pertinent issue in the STC compared to the other establishments.

Levels of knowledge and understanding of child sexual abuse amongst staff also varied. A greater emphasis was being placed on training in this area by senior management but the extent to which staff had received training was inconsistent and varied by role. As with children, managing appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in this specific context was also challenging for staff. They recognised that behaviours that were ‘normal’ in the community were less acceptable in secure settings. It was a challenge for them to allow the children in their care to be ‘normal adolescents’ but also ensure they were kept safe. Managing the balance was difficult for staff and there was always a level of subjectivity and discretion in whether or not individual staff members deemed something to be appropriate, or not, in these settings.

Back to top