Tag Archives: abuse

‘Cinderella’ emotional law under consideration

If there was anything that made me scream ‘it’s about time’ it was this story. I’ve been ever hopeful of this for some time.

It has been confirmed that the government are considering whether to introduce a new offence of emotional cruelty to children. This follows the campaign from charity Action for Children which aimed for a ‘Cinderella law’.

Current neglect laws have been criticised for focusing mainly on the physical effects of abuse only, one would assume mostly as it’s easier to find evidence for the physical abuse. The proposed change to neglect laws in England and Wales would see parents who deny their children affection face prosecution for the first time.

Social workers have a definition of cruelty which forms the basis of their work, but this definition is not written in law surprisingly. What this means is that it’s very difficult for police to gather evidence in these cases.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said the change would be a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who has backed the charity’s campaign, said the current law was outdated as it is based largely on legislation first introduced 150 years ago. And he stressed that non-physical abuse could cause “significant harm” to children.

“You can look at a range of behaviours, from ignoring a child’s presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child where the child is frightened to disclose what is happening to them,” Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 5 live. “Isolating them, belittling them, rejecting them, corrupting them, as well, into criminal or anti-social behaviour.”

He said the new law would not criminalise parents for being nasty, but for their criminal behaviour.

“This proposal is not about widening the net, it’s about making the net stronger so that we catch those parents and carers who are quite clearly inflicting significant harm on their children, whereas they should be nurturing them and loving them,” Mr Buckland said. He added that it would also give police a “clearer way” in which to work, he said.

The campaign was also backed by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, who introduced a private member’s bill on the issue last year, the late Labour MP Paul Goggins and Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former judge who was president of the family division of the High Court.

The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 provides for the punishment of a person who treats a child “in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement)”. Mr Williams’s bill would add a further category of harm for which the perpetrator could be punished: impairment of “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.

Child neglect was made a punishable offence by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed it was “considering ways the law can support” protecting children from this sort of harm. A spokesman said protecting children from harm was “fundamental” and that child cruelty was an “abhorrent crime which should be punished”.

Ministers are looking to introduce the measure ahead of the next election, possibly in the Queen’s Speech, but sources told the BBC it was not yet a done deal. But it is understood this might not be the case as such a change would not require a separate piece of legislation – it could instead be added on to an existing bill.

Well I think it’s blatantly obvious why my thought is ‘it’s about time’. Neglect by definition is a persistent failure to meet a child’s physical and psychological needs. The civil law does recognise emotional abuse of children, that is what our social workers operate guidance from, but the police however are limited because the criminal law does not, it only recognises physical abuse. This law was introduced 146 years ago and has not been updated in all that time. Emotional abuse is just as serious an offense and can have just as negative as an impact as physical abuse so should be given the same punishment.

I want to finish this post with a story released by Action for Children. This is the story of a woman called Collette. Collette’s father is black and was frequently told by her white mother that she had been ‘a mistake’. Here is an account of what Collette said;

‘When my mother met my stepfather and had children with him, I was in the way. My stepfather was racist and she had no excuse for having a mixed-raced child. The result was me being treated like Cinderella but without the ball and happy ending. I felt like I shouldn’t have been born, I’d been told often enough. I would watch how my parents would be so different with my younger siblings and burn with anger and jealousy. I was placed under the Mental Health Act and have been receiving help ever since. I was finally diagnosed with severe depression, post-traumatic stress, bipolar and anxiety.’

Stories that are similar to this occur in around 1 in 10 children, according to a report last week by Action for Children. Let’s put a stop to this cruel and vile behaviour. No child deserves this, so let’s put those shameful people who inflict it away for good.

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Stabbed with a pencil, headbutted and punched

Well given this title, you might think I’m reporting on another rogue teacher, as I seem to do find a lot of those.

Actually, you’d be wrong. This one is actually about new figures about abuse not by teachers, but by children, some of which are as young as four years old! In one instance, a nursery school teacher was reportedly smacked, kicked and headbutted by a child in Walsall, West Midlands. Elsewhere, it is claimed a pupil punched and headbutted a staff member after grabbing them by the neck in Houndslow, West London. One teacher in Derby was stabbed in the arm with a pencil, according to reports. The Sun on Sunday has reported that teachers have been scratched, kicked and even bitten by children they were attempting to control.

Figures published by the newspaper suggested that children as young as four have violently assaulted teachers 21,000 times in the past two years. On average, there are 55 assaults in school per day.

In the 2011/12 academic year there were 10,000 attacks in classrooms while in 2012/13 there were 10,750. The highest number of attacks were in Hampshire – which saw 3709 over the two years. The area was followed by Leeds with 3,122 and then Southampton with 901. Other areas in the top ten most violent areas included Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The figures were obtained from 70 local authorities in England and Wales by the newspaper via a Freedom of Information Act.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Teachers have more power than ever to maintain discipline.’

I find the government comment quite bizarre. If I’m brutally honest, I would look to the parents and consider why the child is behaving in that way. It is no secret that children take parents as a role model more often than not, given they are the first adult caregivers that children encounter in the world (if you discount the midwives etc). I know from experience I used to replicate aggressive behaviours that those who called themselves my parents used to use at school all the time. Took me forever to realise that what I was doing was wrong. There is only so much a teacher can do in a classroom of 30 children that they see for a few hours a day, 5 days a week for 7 or 8 months of the year when you subtract holidays. Not everything is down to them.

Childline to teach about abuse in Primary Schools

Volunteers from the helpline ChildLine are planning to visit every UK primary school at least once every two years to teach children about abuse. The new NSPCC campaign called Now I Know aims to teach nine to 11-year-olds about self-protection and getting help.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said the Jimmy Savile case showed what happened if people did not “speak up”.

On average, two children in every primary class have suffered some form of abuse or neglect, the charity said. Mr Wanless said: “We want children to be able to say ‘now I know’ – and not ‘I wish I had known’. And we want everyone to play their part by looking out for children and reinforcing the messages about speaking up. Jimmy Savile’s crimes are one shocking illustration of the consequences when people do not speak up and are not heard, for whatever reason.”

The NSPCC has previously said Savile, who died in 2011, had been one of the most prolific sex offenders in its 129-year history.

According to ChildLine, the majority of children who contact its helpline are aged over 11, but many speak about abuse which happened months or years earlier.

A study carried out by YouGov for the NSPCC showed just 36% of UK adults thought they would have recognised abuse if it had happened to them at primary school age. It also found 38% of those polled said they would have known who to ask for help at that age. Mr Wanless said the charity wanted to “inspire everyone to believe” child abuse – which can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse – can be prevented. “Protection after the event, vital as it is, can’t attack the root causes of the problem,” he said. “By helping children understand and identify abuse in an age-appropriate way, we can encourage them to speak out earlier and protect themselves and others from the devastating effects of abuse.”

The ChildLine Schools Service, which is free to all UK primary schools, has visited 270,895 children in 3,956 schools so far. I welcome the new campaign and am glad to see this come to light. It is unfortunate that abuse is present and it horrifies me that people will even think about abusing children, but it’s important that children understand what to do if such incidents do happen. I know first hand how abuse can affect a child, and it’s because of that I can empathise and understand children who have gone through it, and I also know that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, however far away it may be.

Separately, almost 50,000 people have signed a petition calling for a new law forcing people who work with children to report suspected child abuse. The petition will be handed to 10 Downing Street later ahead of the publication this week of the serious case review into the murder of four-year-old Daniel Pelka by his mother and stepfather in 2012. I’m a little concerned about this petition. It is already expected that those who work with children report suspected child abuse, and there are guidelines or protocols to go through, so I don’t understand what trying to bring a law in will do, if it will indeed do anything.

Abusive teacher-pupil relationships? Surely not …

Well unfortunately it does happen. In fact it is often something that goes completely amiss. This comes from the news that teacher Jeremy Forrest has pleaded guilty to five charges of sexual activity with a child, having already been found guilty of abducting a schoolgirl and taking her to France.

This isn’t the only case that has hit the media in recent years. In 2011, Mark Westcott, 48, of North Wraxall, Wiltshire, was jailed for 16 months after having sexual intercourse with one of his students. Christopher Drake, 29, of Monton, who called himself the “Salford stallion”, was jailed for six years in April in the same year for having sexual intercourse with under-age pupils. It is not just male teachers either. Female teacher Eppie Sprung Dawson, 26, of Dumfries, is awaiting sentencing for having sex with a 17-year-old pupil. In 2009, private school music teacher Helen Goddard, then 26, was jailed for 15 months over a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

You might think this kind of relationship has been outlawed for years. But the surprising truth is that it has only been outlawed as recently as the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This means that it is illegal for a teacher to have sexual relations with any pupil under the age of 18, regardless of whether it is consensual. This applies where the child is in full-time education and the person works in the same place as the child, even if the person does not teach the child. Prior to 2003, the age of consent – 16 – was the only issue.

Figures on offences are hard to come by – the Ministry of Justice says it does not collate offences by occupation and the Department for Education did not respond to a request for figures – but it is widely reported that between 1991 and 2008, a total of 129 teachers were prosecuted for relationships with pupils.

Teaching unions say they are rare, with the number of cases that go as far as court tiny, and the number that end up in conviction tinier still.

However anecdotally, it seems to be more widespread. In 2007, a YouGov survey of 2,200 adults found one in six knew of someone who had had an “intimate relationship” with a teacher while at school.

Sometimes the victims never complain. Many don’t even consider themselves as “victims” until years after the relationship took place. Some never change their mind.

Sarah (not her real name), 37, from Hertfordshire, had a nine-month relationship with her 33-year-old male teacher when she was 16.

“He was the head of department – the young, cool one everyone liked. We had got talking, we got on well. Occasionally he’d give me a lift home from school. Then, two weeks after my 16th birthday he called me into his office and kissed me, saying he’d wanted to do that for ages,” she says.

At the time Sarah – who had only kissed a couple of boys before – felt flattered. They later had sex. A fantasy had suddenly become reality, with secret trips to the countryside and nights in together when his flatmate was out. Even though she knew he had a girlfriend, Sarah says she was in awe.

“I thought I was in love and was very up for it – even though he didn’t always treat me well. I think some teachers had suspicions, and my friends knew, but I was a good student, and a mature 16-year-old, and we were never found out,” she says.

In some ways there’s echoes of the evidence that Forrest’s victim gave. In court, the schoolgirl, now 16, eloquently defended her former teacher, saying she had “no naivety” about what having a sexual relationship meant.

“It was what I wanted, and I probably encouraged it.”

She told jurors they had spoken “a lot” about whether “it was the right thing” as Forrest didn’t want to take advantage, and that the plan to go to France was “kind of [her] suggestion”.

For Sarah, the court case brought back mixed emotions. Now a married mother of three, she believes her pupil-teacher relationship – which finished after her GCSEs – didn’t have a lasting impact on her life, but concedes it could have been different for a more vulnerable 16-year-old.

Looking back, she recognises the relationship was an abuse of power.

“It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I realised how angry I was, or how insane I’d feel if it happened to them. I’ve thought about reporting the teacher – he went on to be a headmaster – but even now, the thought of my dad finding out makes me feel slightly ill. My parents would be absolutely devastated,” she says.

At the same time, she says she can’t help thinking that if Forrest and the schoolgirl had been left to it, the relationship would probably have fizzled out and they’d both have been fine.

“I find myself strangely hoping he is treated fairly leniently, without really knowing why. I think it’s for her sake, that on some level I identify with her,” she says.

Sarah isn’t the only person that believes pupil-teacher relationships aren’t always clear-cut. Prof Pat Sikes, of the University of Sheffield, fell in love with her 22-year-old teacher when she was 14. Now she’s married to him.

She’s also conducted research into pupil-teacher relationships, which while stressing girls need to be protected against predatory male teachers, challenges the notion all girls are powerless victims.

However for child protection experts, there is no grey area.

Even if Forrest and his pupil, now 16 but 15 at the time of the offences, might believe they have a genuine relationship, it’s still an abusive relationship, said Jon Brown, the NSPCC’s lead on sex abuse prevention.

Such relationships can become “incredibly confusing” for the victim, whether they are 10 or 15, with all tending to be “left feeling duped, tricked and quite bereft”.

Tales such as that of Christina, who says her affair with her teacher, when she was a naive 16-year-old, damaged her for life show some struggle to ever get over it.

Chartered educational psychologist Alan Mclean says fundamentally it’s an issue of trust.

“It’s an asymmetrical power relationship and the teacher is always the abuser because they are abusing their power, authority and position. Teachers are obviously not in a unique position of trust [others include sports coaches, mentors and foster parents], but the point is they are in a position of trust. Trust is the glue that holds everything together and an abuse of trust is rightly seen as a crime,” he says.

This is a sad but honest truth about the state of the profession. Message to all teachers: don’t be the next one, it’s not worth destroying your career over.