Peer-on-Peer abuse: The challenge we all face

Research indicates: that one in three girls experience sexual violence from a partner; one quarter of child sexual exploitation cases are perpetrated by young people under the age of 18; and girls and young women associated to street gangs and other violent peer groups are up to nine times more vulnerable than other young women entering the criminal justice system. Amid this growing body of evidence, and with the change of the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17 year olds, and the expressed inclusion of girls and young women in the Government’s violence against women and girls action plan, local services are tasked with meeting the challenge of addressing violence and abuse in young people’s relationships and peer groups.

Meeting the Challenge

In August 2013 the MsUnderstood Partnership opened an application process for local areas across England to bid for strategic and operational support to address peer-on-peer abuse. In total, 40 local areas bid for support to improve what they do, take a proactive approach, and to be at the forefront of developing a response to this issue. This level of interest demonstrates that this truly is a national challenge.

Of the 40 local areas who bid for support Buckinghamshire, the North London Cluster (Haringey, Hackney, Islington, Camden, Barnet and Enfield), and Sheffield were chosen as the first three sites and started working with MsUnderstood in January 2014. In May 2014 MsUnderstood was able to recruit a London Programme  Manager and extend its support to  three additional sites; Croydon, Lambeth and Greenwich. All the successful sites were able to demonstrate shared commitment across their agencies to meet the challenge of peer-on-peer abuse.  Following the audit process delivery plans have been agreed with sites, and will be delivered until May 2016. Learning from the site work is being disseminated through lessons learnt and thematic briefings, as well as through our commissioned training. The work we do in local sites will:

1. Support local analysts within policing, children’s social care and public health to develop a peer-on-peer abuse problem profile across seven local authorities, through the delivery of workshops, training and the co-creation of data collection tools. These profiles include information on the environments most strongly associated with incidents of abuse and are intended to identify overlaps and enable interventions to target harmful environments as well as vulnerable young people

2. Review data that has been captured and used at siloed multi-agency meetings and design a means by which they can be linked to produce a profile of vulnerable adolescents and vulnerable environments within a local area, as opposed to issue specific profiles that aren’t linked – such as a profile on CSE and then a separate one on gang activity and so on.

3. Work with social workers, youth offending workers and education leads to record the approaches they take to mapping, assessing and intervening with vulnerable peer groups. These approaches will be shared across local services to enable consistent consideration of peer group influence when conducting assessments or planning interventions.

4. Observe, capture and share approaches that identify, monitor and support young people who abuse their peers, in order to produce a framework for minimum standard approaches to these young people across a cluster of local authorities

5. Use ethnographic research methods to identify the benefits and limitations of detached youth work provision within housing and public space environments  – paying particular attention to the extent to which such provision makes environments safer for the young people within them, and the partnerships required to make this happen.

6. Support specialist organisations who provide child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, harmful sexual behaviour and serious youth violence services to work together to deliver consistent training messages on the nature and extent of peer-on-peer abuse. In particular support them to drawn upon the discrete evidence bases upon which each of their specialist areas have been built to maximise the knowledge we already have about how best to safeguard young people abused by, or abusing, their peers

7. Map young people’s journeys through local services, using case file review processes underpinned by participatory activity. At the outset of the project all sites attended a day where the head of the programme shared her learning from the initial case review process that underpinned the methodology of the support programme. A number of sites requested that their cases be subject to the same analysis to understand the dynamics of peer-on-peer abuse within their local area and the extent to which their safeguarding response engaged with the environments in which these incidents had occurred.

8. Design and pilot a holistic approach to assessing vulnerability during adolescence that draws together issue-based assessment tools and utilises practitioner knowledge of local risk and local young people

9. Develop the Metropolitan Police’s operation ‘Makesafe’ to respond to peer-on-peer abuse (as it is currently focused on adult-on-child exploitation), by supporting community safety teams and community-based voluntary sector organisations to identify opportunities for bystander intervention and neighbourhood responses to peer-on-peer abuse

10. Work alongside universal and targeted services working with boys and young men to identify opportunities for preventing harmful attitudes towards gender, sexuality and consent, and make referrals where concerns are identified

11. Identify opportunities to raise the awareness of teenage relationship abuse in sites that have achieved this with sexual exploitation by: supporting analysts to build a baseline picture of prevalence; forging links between multi-agency groups concerned with violence against women and girls and sexual exploitation; linking training delivered on peer-on-peer exploitation and teenage relationship abuse

12. Work with a Fair Access Panel to ensure that instances of peer-on-peer abuse are consistently considered and recorded when placement decisions are being made for excluded young people, following which such information can be shared with relevant analysts to track the impact of peer-on-peer abuse in educational settings

13. Support local safeguarding children boards to better engage with schools at all stages of their response to peer-on-peer abuse, working alongside schools and education providers to develop preventative support and interventions. Where they are occurring, supporting the roll out whole school responses to child sexual exploitation, ensuring that they aim to prevent all forms of peer-on-peer abuse and change school cultures as well as individual young people’s behaviours