What a surprise! In the two years preceding lockdown ⎼ at which point children along with the rest of the population were confined to barracks ⎼ child-on-child sex abuse cases reportedly doubled, with 10% of cases carried out by children aged 10 or under.
To be precise, from 2016 to 2017, the number of cases reported to the police was 7,866. Between 2018 and 2019, the number had risen to 16,102. Between 2020 and 2021, bearing in mind that schools were largely closed due to lockdown, the number was 10,861. Had they been open and functioning normally, it is without doubt that the number would have been far higher.
But, of course, this isn't really a surprise at all. After all, the Everyone's Invited website, set up in June 2020 by Soma Sara so that survivors could anonymously share their experience of sexual assault or abuse at school or university, had by March this year attracted over 51,000 testimonies. Which means, at a conservative estimate, that no matter how many offences are now being reported to the police, the vast majority are still going unreported. This is borne out perhaps by Soma herself, who – reportedly surprised at the volume of stories – says she hopes it will lead to the exposure and eradication of 'rape culture'.
Rape culture!?! Is that really the climate she sees in our schools? The growing body of evidence now coming to light would suggest she's spot on. So actually, this latest revelation by the police of the staggering rise in child-on-child sexual abuse, apparently occasioning public dismay, was and is entirely predictable.
The scandal, in real terms, is that we're still doing nothing to address the problem ⎼ beyond a bleating reaffirmation by Ofsted of the need for more sex education, apparently so that children know the boundaries.
Well, that hasn't worked so far. In fact, it can with justification be said that mandatory sex education has largely caused the problem in the first place.
A little bit of history. Ten years ago, the number of reported incidents of child-on-child sexual assault and abuse was miniscule – one might even say, from the stats, it was 'non-existent'. Yes, there were worryingly high reported cases of child rape and sexual assault - but almost without exception such offences were carried out by adults, 90% of whom were known to the child, including family members, and people trusted by the family.
It would seem then that, over the last decade, something has happened to sexualise children and break down the boundaries that previously protected them from harm inflicted by their peers. Without doubt, the heightened sexualisation of culture is a contributory factor. Children, after all, are bombarded with sexualised images on the internet and social media almost from birth, and shamelessly encouraged to imitate internet style icons and influencers by adults who should know better.
But, arguably even more alarming - and of far more devastating effect - is the easy acceptance and endorsement of such behaviour by schools. The Department for Education may claim that in mandating sex and relationships education they are seeking to protect children from harm, but the reality is that providing teaching that tells children how to have 'safe' and diverse forms of sex, without any kind of moral framework, far from keeping them safe, serves only to make them sexually aware and active. And at an age when they cannot possibly properly understand or process what they are being taught for themselves. Small wonder that they get it wrong!
Tell a child of four or five, for instance, that 'some people like to touch their own bodies' - as some resources have - but that they need to do this in private, can only encourage masturbation. And from the stories of children found self-abusing in class following these lessons, we know, sadly, that this is all too true.
Similarly, telling a child of around six – who in all probability has never before thought about sex – that babies are made when daddy puts his penis into mummy, will excite their curiosity and perhaps make them want to try it for themselves - a fact surely borne out by this unprecedented rise in sexual offences now reported by the police, and carried out by boys under the age of 10.
So no, the answer to this growing problem is not more sex education, as maintained by Government. Teaching children they have a right to have sex as soon as they feel 'ready' and how to do it safely, be it oral, anal or vaginal – only cautioning them that both parties must consent – will neither safeguard nor protect them. It will, on the contrary, destroy them, and ours is the blame.
Instead, we need to teach children about good, old-fashioned values and morality, telling them that healthy relationships require commitment and faithfulness, and that sex is a precious gift that, used rightly, will bind a man and woman together for life. To keep children safe, we need once again to teach them the boundaries.
Rev Lynda Rose is founder of Voice for Justice UK, a group which works to uphold the moral values of the Bible in society.