Children have fallen victim to 282 sex crimes in Sussex schools over the past five years – and the vast majority were committed by other youngsters.
Figures released by Sussex Police under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the age groups of the offenders ranged from 10-65.
The figures only included actual crimes, not ‘incidents’ which the police may have been called to attend but did not believe involved a crime.
The crimes included rape, sexual assault, sexual activity with a child, exposure, abuse of trust, voyeurism and sexual grooming.
The children targeted most often were boys aged 13 and under, with 90 sexual assaults reported since 2011/12 – 39 in 2014/15 alone – while there were 12 cases of rape.
Such assaults have fallen in the past year, to 18 incidents, with three rapes – but assaults against girls have risen.
There have been 31 sexual assaults against girls under the age of 13 since 2012/13, as well as three rapes. When it came to older girls, 13 and over, there were 50 sexual assaults and 10 rapes between 2011/12 and 2015/16.
Unlike the younger boys, the figures for girls of all ages increased in 2016/17, by four cases when it came to the older girls and one case for the younger girls.
Boys aged 13 and over were the most unlikely age group to suffer assaults, but, as with the girls, the number of offences committed against them has risen. Of the 15 sex assaults recorded in the past five years, seven occurred in 2015/16, more than double the year before.
So why have those figures risen when others have fallen?
Sussex Police works extensively with schools, with specially assigned officers providing input into the curriculum. These officers help to raise awareness of issues such as consent, as part of the children’s personal social health and citizenship education.
It was this education police said had helped lead to more youngsters reporting sex crimes in schools, rather than being too afraid to speak out.
Hopefully our children are learning how to stand up for themselves when such assaults happen and are losing the ingrained fear of previous generations that they were somehow at fault for the attack, or that no one would believe them.
A police spokesman said: “We believe the general trend of an increase in recent years might be, as with sexual offences more generally across the country, a result of a more rigorous police approach to crime recording, together with an increased confidence in young people to report. Another contributory factor is the enhanced awareness of young people and staff given their better understanding of what constitutes an assault, in particular types of child sexual exploitation.”
When it came to the offenders, 47 people have had police action taken against them in the past five years.
The majority of them – 15 – fell into the 18-25 age range, though 14 were aged 10-17. People in the 46-65 age groups committed the fewest such crimes, with three.
The police spokesman said: “The vast majority of these reports relate to children offending against each other, and each case is taken seriously and investigated appropriately.
“The circumstances will differ in each case and it is important not to draw too many definitive conclusions from statistics alone.
“But it is still important to continue to encourage schools to provide good quality sex and relationship education for pupils, which is essential in order to help reduce the numbers of victims and to prevent harm, not just inside schools but also at home and in the wider community.”
When asked why action had been taken against so few people compared to the number of crimes committed against the children, the spokesman added: “The statistics for solved crimes are broadly in line with statistics for all solved sexual offences across the country.”
Plan International UK, a charity which promotes children’s rights, has been carrying the torch for better sex education in the nation’s schools. The charity has called on the government to commit to mandatory sex and relationships education which cover issues such as sexting, consent, healthy relationships and the law.
Kerry Smith, the charity’s head of girls’ rights, said young people were being “failed” when it came to such issues. She added: “Quality sex and relationships education helps young people to develop healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships while helping to tackle inappropriate and aggressive sexual behaviour.”
On Tuesday (September 13), OFSTED and the Department for Education were accused of having “no coherent plan” to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
Despite the work carried out to ensure children knew how to tackle such incidents, a report from the commons women and equalities committee said many schools were under-reporting incidents and often failing to take them seriously.
Chairman Maria Miller MP said: “Our inquiry has revealed a concerning picture. We have heard girls talk about sexual bullying and abuse as an expected part of their everyday life; with teachers accepting sexual harassment as ‘just banter’; and parents struggling to know how they can best support their children.”
She added: “It is difficult to explain why any school would allow girls to be subjected to sexual harassment and violent behaviour that has been outlawed in the adult workplace. The evidence shows it is undermining the confidence of young women.”
The committee called on the government to “act now to protect and empower a generation of children and young people”.
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