Child sexual abuse in schools often an open secret, says inquiry

Abusers often have reputations and 42% of those abused knew of other victims, report finds

People who carry out child sexual abuse in schools often have reputations as perpetrators, with their behaviour frequently an open secret, according to a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales.

Research based on the accounts of 691 victims and survivors also found that 42% of people who were sexually abused in the context of schools were aware of other victims in the same school.

The majority of perpetrators were male teachers or other educational staff, who often manipulated and groomed children, staff and parents in order to facilitate the sexual abuse. They often had good reputations with staff and parents or were seen as “cool” by pupils.

Patrick Sanford, 68, a theatre director who made an autobiographical play and film, Groomed, about his experience of abuse at primary school in the 1960s, was one of those who shared his experiences.

He told the Guardian the abuse began when he was nine and his teacher put his hands down his shorts and abused him as he was reading to the class from behind a desk at the front of the room.

“This would happen on a regular basis for a period of a year till by chance I had to leave that school,” he said. “He groomed me by always making me top of the class, by telling my mother that I was a brilliant little boy.”

He said the abuse escalated during break times and after school. On one occasion another teacher walked in on them but his abuser explained it away as tickling.

“I went into school every day in terror that he was going to ask me to read in front of the class,” said Sanford. “And of course, some days he didn’t, some days he asked other children, and I know because I heard a girl talking in the playground, she said to her friend: ‘If [he] puts his hand up my skirt again, my dad says he will come and bash him.’ So I know that that man was not just abusing me.”

Having lived with the effects ever since, he said his overwhelming feeling with respect to the inquiry was that at last “somebody is taking it seriously”.

Males made up the majority (55%) of those who reported abuse in the context of schools to the inquiry’s Truth Project, which allows victims and survivors the chance to share their experiences. The proportion of males rose to 76% and 78% of those who experienced abuse in the context of independent and special schools respectively, and fell to 45% among state school pupils.

Twenty-nine per cent of accounts from victims and survivors came from independent schools, despite fewer than 8% percent of all pupils attending them from the 1950s onwards, the report says. Special schools and residential schools were also over-represented.

Suggestions to tackle abuse in schools included imposing a legal responsibility on them 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.

The report’s principal researcher, Dr Sophia King, said: “Schools should be somewhere that children feel safe and protected, but this report shows a very different picture. 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.”


Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ealing Abbey abbot resigns over failure to investigate child abuse allegations
Dom Martin Shipperlee faced questioning over handling of sexual abuse claims at school

Owen Bowcott

08, Feb, 2019 @3:20 PM

Article image
More than 1,000 claims of child sexual abuse in custody, inquiry reveals
Chair of inquiry ‘deeply disturbed’ by allegations from young offender institutions

Robert Booth and Eric Allison

28, Feb, 2019 @3:18 PM

Article image
Brian Altman QC named lead counsel for child sexual abuse inquiry
Former Old Bailey prosecutor specialising in serious crime cases replaces Ben Emmerson QC, who quit last September

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

10, Jan, 2017 @12:44 PM

Article image
Child victims of sexual abuse ‘often accused of lying to police’
Officers also mismanaged cases in a way that could lead to reprisals for victims, survivors tell England and Wales inquiry

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

24, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Child abuse inquiry to cut number of public hearings
Alexis Jay reveals key hearings into Greville Janner, Anglican church and Westminster will not be held until 2018 at the earliest

Sandra Laville

16, Dec, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
Telford child sexual abuse scandal failures to be re-examined
Media accused as pressure mounts for inquiry into child exploitation in Shropshire town

Ian Cobain

29, Mar, 2018 @3:53 PM

Article image
Child abuse inquiry 'to continue' despite survivors' withdrawal
Panel responds to condemnation by Shirley Oaks Survivors Association

Sandra Laville

18, Nov, 2016 @6:38 PM

Article image
Inquiry calls for web pre-screening to end UK child abuse 'explosion'
IICSA report calls for social media firms to be made to act, as police struggle to keep up

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

12, Mar, 2020 @3:23 PM

Article image
Transparency vital to child abuse inquiry, Yvette Cooper warns chair
MP rejects Alexis Jay’s demand that inquiry members should not be called to give evidence to Commons select committee

Sandra Laville

02, Nov, 2016 @4:47 PM

Article image
Report damns culture of acceptance of sexual abuse at two Catholic schools
Inquiry says Ampleforth and Downside put own reputations before protection of children

Harriet Sherwood and Rob Evans

09, Aug, 2018 @3:52 PM