Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges

Issued December 2017 (updated in May 2018)

This guidance has been issued by the Department for Education and aims to provide advice around:

  • what is meant by sexual violence and sexual harassment;
  • what schools should do when they have reports of incidents;
  • what the legal responsibilities are; and
  • the need to create a whole school culture around safeguarding.


The status of the document is advice, however this is set out in the context of the legal obligations on schools under the Human Rights Act 1998, Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty.  It is therefore clear that whilst the status of the document is advice, there is a need to ensure that you are following the advice to meet your legal obligations.


The document considers the definitions of victim and alleged perpetrator and the inferences that may be associated with these terms.  It also looks at what is meant by sexual violence (rape, assault by penetration and sexual assault) and sexual harassment (‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’), and what is meant by consent.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour

What is meant by harmful sexual behaviour and how to distinguish harmful behaviour from what is part of normal development of sexual identity is set out.  The document has useful references to tools such as the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool to assist with determining the behaviour that you are seeing.

Whole school culture

There is clarity around the expectation that sexually harmful behaviour is not part of any school’s culture, it is not a rite of passage and should not be accepted as ‘just part of growing up’.  Staff need to be challenging playground banter and not passing it off as ‘boys being boys’ and challenging incidents of potential assault.

There needs to be school wide acceptance that specific groups are inherently more vulnerable, including those are SEND and pupils identifying as, or suspected of being LGBT+.

This does not require anything new, however is about ensuring that it is embedded as part of the school’s wider approach to safeguarding, and that the key messages should be included in the schools approach to sex and relationships education.

Schools are also expected to have a means of recording all incidents to ensure that they know what the picture is within the school and then be able to develop and action plan to respond.

Managing individual cases

The document sets out how to respond in situation, including looking at where the response may be governed by law.  In the first instance disclosures should be managed as any other disclosure, however consideration of the impact of social media and the network of the victim needs to take place – this is referred to as contextual safeguarding.  Four possible outcomes are proposed and guidance offered as to how to protect the victim if both the victim and perpetrator attend the same school (including looking at travel to and from school).

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Do you know what the culture is within your school – is there a perception of openness, or does playground banter go unchallenged?

Subscribe to Safeguarding Network and access an audit tool to help you consider what changes need to take place in your school in order to meet the requirements of this guidance.  Subscribers also get access to further information and materials that will help you meet your training needs in relation to sexual violence and sexual harassment.

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