Suffolk schools see rise in sex abuse reports despite lockdown
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Reports of sexual abuse in Suffolk schools have increased despite lockdown closures, figures have revealed.
A Freedom of Information request to Suffolk police revealed 71 sexual offences were reported to have happened in the county's schools in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.
Those figures come despite schools having closed between March 23 and June 1 last year, although an undisclosed portion relate to offences in previous years.
The most common offences reported included sexual assault on a female and sexual activity with a female child, while seven cases of rape of a female were reported last year. One case of the rape of a male was also reported.
A recent Ofsted review found 79% of schoolgirls surveyed nationally experience sexual assault "a lot" or "sometimes", while 64% experience unwanted touching to the same extent.
Anthony Douglas CBE, chair of the Suffolk Safeguarding Partnership, said the organisation will be reviewing its safeguarding guidance to ensure it is strong enough to deal with the "systemic sexual harassment of girls" in schools and the wider community.
Mr Douglas said: “The systematic harassment of teenage girls is a disturbing aspect of our culture.
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"Whilst agencies have done well to disrupt organised sexual exploitation and online abuse, the daily harassment, abuse and violence towards girls and women remains largely unreported and undetected.
"Girls should not have to put up with Neanderthal attitudes and behaviour in the twenty-first century."
Mr Douglas' words were echoed by Stowupland High School headteacher Peter Whear, who said schools should not brush the issue under the carpet.
He said: “The details of the Ofsted report are harrowing, and it is right the issue is firmly in the spotlight.
“What the report makes clear is that schools should acknowledge, rather than seek to avoid the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment of young people by their peers.
“Schools need to be open to the reality of this disturbing situation and not brush it under the carpet.”
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said the force is committed to steering vulnerable youths away from crime.
He added Youth Offending Teams and social services work closely with offenders and their families to ensure they are dealt with appropriately, while support is also offered to ensure victims are their families are supported.
He said: "The welfare of the victim is of the utmost importance and support is offered at all stages to ensure their needs are met and that the appropriate services are provided.
"The 'criminalisation' of children is avoided, and rather the issues surrounding the offence are explored, including their potential vulnerabilities and home life, and work to reduce further offending is carried out.
“We want young people to feel they can come forward and talk to police if someone is sharing images and therefore we encourage reporting. Each case is dealt with individually."
Childline can be contacted seven days a week on 0800 1111 and the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.