Teachers as human rights defenders: strengthening HRE and safeguarding theory to prevent child sexual abuse





Sexual abuse is a public health issue with long-term consequences for children’s lives and education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a key reference point in safeguarding, increasingly incorporated into domestic law. This article aims to strengthen safeguarding theory and practice by reviewing human rights education (HRE) theory and aligning it with care-based ethics. It proposes a renewed focus on HRE in teacher education that examines the teacher’s role and professional responsibilities, strengthens rights-based knowledge, and explores the transformative power of rights. By empowering teachers with skills to recognise and act on harmful sexual behaviour (HSB), they can become powerful human rights defenders, protecting children against child-on-child and adult-on-child abuse.  Drawing on empirical data on teachers’ understandings of HSB, we apply theory, cautioning against an under-theorised approach that over-relies on rights knowledge or children’s ability to claim their rights in an emotionally charged arena with asymmetrical power relations. 


Download data is not yet available.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Kjersti Draugedalen, University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway

Kjersti Draugedalen is a Public PhD candidate in Tønsberg Municipality and the University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway, where she is researching education professionals’ understandings and responses to harmful sexual behaviour. Her 2022 book Skadelig seksuell atferd i skolen – hvem kan hjelpe meg? Samarbeid mellom tjenester [Harmful sexual behaviour in school- who can help me? Cooperation between agencies], with Helle Kleive, is published by Universitetsforlaget.    

Audrey Osler, University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway and University of Leeds, UK

Audrey Osler is Professor of Education at the University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway and Professor Emerita of Citizenship and Human Rights Education at the University of Leeds, UK. She is currently preparing an anthology for Routledge entitled Nordic perspectives on human rights education: Developing theory and practice for social justice with Beate Goldschmidt-Gjerløw.    


Allnock, D. & R. Atkinson (2019). ‘Snitches get stitches': School-specific barriers to victim disclosure and peer reporting of sexual harm committed by young people in school contexts. Child Abuse & Neglect, 89, 7–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.12.025 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.12.025

Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) (2017). Practice guidelines for assessment, treatment and intervention with adolescents who have engaged in sexually abusive behavior. Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

Barneombudet (2018). Alle kjenner noen som har opplevd det. Barneombudets rapport om seksuelle krenkelser blant ungdom. [Everyone knows someone who has experienced it. The Ombudsman’s report on sexual violations among adolescents]. Oslo: Nilz & Otto Grafisk. Retrieved from https://www.barneombudet.no

Bath, H. & Seita, J. (2018). The Three Pillars of Transforming Care: Trauma and Resilience in the Other 23 Hours. Canada: University of Winnepeg Faculty of Education Publishing.

Bergrav, S. (2020). ‘Et skada bilde av hvordan sex er’ - ungdoms perspektiver på porno. [‘A damaged picture of how sex is’ - young people’s perspectives on pornography]. Redd Barna, Report 2017. Retrieved from https://www.reddbarna.no/nyheter/et-tastetrykk-unna-porno

Boler, M. (1999). Feeling power: Emotions and education. New York: Routledge

Council of Europe (2007). Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Lanzarote, 25.X.2007. Council of Europe. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/1680084822

Council of Europe (2020). Harmful sexual behaviour by children: overview of first responses identified and proposals for further action. Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF). Working group on responses to violence against children (CDENF-GT-VAE). Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/0900001680a080a2

Creeden, K. (2013). Taking a developmental approach to treating juvenile sexual behavior problems. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 8(3−4), 12−16. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0100977 https://doi.org/10.1037/h0100977

Draugedalen, K. (2021). Teachers’ responses to harmful sexual behaviour in primary school – findings from a digital survey among primary school teachers. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 27(2), 233-246. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2020.1773552 https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2020.1773552

Draugedalen, K., Kleive, H. & Grov, Ø. (2021). Preventing harmful sexual behavior in primary schools: Barriers and solutions. Child Abuse & Neglect, 121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105295 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105295

Ey, L-A. & McInnes, E. (2020). Harmful sexual behaviour in young children and pre-teens: An education issue. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429400452 https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429400452

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P. & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of deaths in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 14(4), 245−258. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8

Firmin, C. (2019). School rules of (sexual) engagement: Government, staff and student contributions to the norms of peer sexual-abuse in seven UK schools. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 26(3), 289-301. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2019.1618934 https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2019.1618934

Goldschmidt-Gjerløw, B. (2019). Children's rights and teachers' responsibilities: Reproducing or transforming the cultural taboo on child sexual abuse? Human Rights Education Review, 2(1), 25-46. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.3079 https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.3079

Goldschmidt-Gjerløw, B. & Trysnes, I. (2020). #MeToo in school: Teachers’ and young learners’ lived experience of verbal sexual harassment as a pedagogical opportunity. Human Rights Education Review, 3(2), 27-48. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.3720 https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.3720

Goldschmidt-Gjerløw, B. (2021). Exploring variation in Norwegian social science teachers’ practice concerning sexuality education: who teachers are matters and so does school culture. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 66(1), 163-178. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2020.1869072 https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2020.1869072

Gollifer, S.E. (2021). Human rights education in Iceland: Learning about transformative pedagogies from upper secondary school teachers’ stories. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Iceland, Faculty of Education and Diversity.

Hackett, S. (2011). Children, young people and sexual violence. In C. Barter and D. Berridge (Eds.), Children behaving badly? Peer violence between children and young people, (pp. 121 – 135). Chichester: Blackwell Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470976586.ch9 https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470976586.ch9

Hackett, S. (2014). Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours. Dartington: Research In Practice.

Hackett, S. (2020). Sexual violence and harmful sexual behaviour displayed by children: Nature, causes, consequences and responses. Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF) Working Group on responses to violence against children (CDENF-GT-VAE). Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/09000016809eb593

Hackett, S., Holmes, D. and Branigan, P. (2016). Operational framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours. London: The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Hafstad, G. S. & Augusti, E. M. (Eds.) (2019). Ungdoms erfaringer med vold og overgrep i oppveksten: En nasjonal undersøkelse av ungdom i alderen 12 til 16 år [Young peoples’ experiences with violence and abuse in their upbringing: A national survey among young people from 12 to 16 years]. (Report 4/2019). Retrieved from www.nkvts.no

Hallett, S., Deerfield, K. & Hudson, K. (2019). The same but different? exploring the links between gender, trauma, sexual exploitation and harmful sexual behaviours. Child Abuse Review, 28(6), 442−454. https://doi.org/10.1002/car.2591 https://doi.org/10.1002/car.2591

Halvorsen, J. E., Solberg, E. T. & Stige, S. H. (2020). “To say it out loud is to kill your own childhood.” An exploration of the first-person perspective of barriers to disclosing child sexual abuse. Children and Youth Services Review, 113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104999 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104999

Harber, C. (2005). Schooling as violence. How schools harm pupils and societies. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203488423 https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203488423

Hellevik, P., & Øverlien, C. (2016). Teenage intimate partner violence: Factors associated with victimization among Norwegian youths. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 44(7), 702-708. https://doi.org/10.1177/1403494816657264 https://doi.org/10.1177/1403494816657264

Jerome, L. (2018). Hypocrites or heroes? Thinking about the role of the teacher in human rights education. Human Rights Education Review, 1(2), 46–64. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.2873 https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.2873

Jerome, L. & Starkey, H. (2021). Children’s rights education in diverse classrooms: Pedagogy, principles and practice. London: Bloomsbury. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350062849 https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350062849

Leonard, M. & Hackett, S. (2019). The AIM3 assessment model. Assessment of adolescents and harmful sexual behaviour. The AIM Project.

Levenson, J. (2019, May). Key note speech at National Adolescent Perpetration Network (NAPN) conference. Riverside Hotel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US. May 3.

Livingstone, S., Mascheroni, G. & Stoilova, M. (2021). The outcomes of gaining digital skills for young people’s lives and wellbeing: a systematic evidence review. New Media & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211043189 https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211043189

Livingstone, S., & Stoilova, M. (2021). The 4Cs: Classifying Online Risk to Children. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.71817

Lundy, L., & Martínez Sainz, G. (2018). The role of law and legal knowledge for a transformative human rights education: addressing violations of children’s rights in formal education. Human Rights Education Review, 1(2), 04–24. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.2560 https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.2560

Makhasane, S. D. & Mthembu, P. (2019). Exploring School violence misconceptions and Professional Development of Teachers. African Renaissance, 16(3), 49−66. https://doi.org/10.31920/2516-5305/2019/v16n3a3 https://doi.org/10.31920/2516-5305/2019/V16n3a3

McKibbin, G., Humphreys, C., & Hamilton, B. (2016). Prevention-enhancing interactions: a critical interpretive synthesis of the evidence about children who sexually abuse other children. Health & Social Care in the Community, 24(6), pp. 657-671. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12260 https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12260

Noddings, N. (2006). Critical lessons: What our schools should teach. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804625 https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804625

Noddings, N. (2013). Caring: A relational approach to ethics and moral education. University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520957343 https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520957343

Osler, A. (1997). The education and careers of Black teachers: Changing identities, changing lives. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Osler, A. (2010). Students' perspectives on schooling. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Osler, A. (2015). Human rights education, postcolonial scholarship, and action for social justice. Theory & Research in Social Education, 43(2), 244-274. https://doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2015.1034393 https://doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2015.1034393

Osler, A. (2016). Human rights and schooling: An ethical framework for teaching social justice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Osler, A., & Starkey, H. (2010). Teachers and human rights education. London: Trentham.

Osler, A. & Solhaug, T. (2018). Children’s human rights and diversity in schools: Framing and measuring. Research in Comparative and International Education, 13(2), 276-298. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745499918777289 https://doi.org/10.1177/1745499918777289

Osler, A. & Skarra, J. A. (2021). The rhetoric and reality of human rights education: policy frameworks and teacher perspectives. Multicultural Education Review, 13(3), 191-210. https://doi.org/10.1080/2005615X.2021.1964265 https://doi.org/10.1080/2005615X.2021.1964265

Perry, B. D. (2009). Examining child maltreatment through a neurodevelopmental lens: clinical application of the neurosequential model of therapeutics. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14(4), 240-255. https://doi.org/10.1080/15325020903004350 https://doi.org/10.1080/15325020903004350

Robinson, C., Phillips, L. & Quennerstedt, A. (2020). Human rights education: developing a theoretical understanding of teachers’ responsibilities. Educational Review, 72(2), 220-241. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2018.1495182 https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2018.1495182

Smahel, D., Machackova, H., Mascheroni, G., Dedkova, L., Staksrud, E., Ólafsson, K., Livingstone, S. & Hasebrink, U. (2020). EU Kids Online 2020: Survey results from 19 countries. https://doi.org/10.21953/lse.47fdeqj01ofo

Shawler, P., Silvis, V. G., Taylora, E. K., Shields, J., Beasley, L. & Silovsky, J. F. (2019). Early identification of youth with problematic sexual behavior: A qualitative study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104317 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104317

Staksrud, E. & Livingstone, S. (2009). Children and online risk. Information, Communication & Society, 12(3), 364-387. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691180802635455 https://doi.org/10.1080/13691180802635455

Struthers, A. E. C. (2020). Teaching human rights in primary schools: Overcoming the barriers to effective practice. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315201719 https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315201719

Struthers, A. E. C. (2021). Protecting invisible children in England: how human rights education could improve school safeguarding. Human Rights Education Review, 4(3), 45-64. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.4473 https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.4473

United Nations (UN). (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General Assembly in Paris, Dec. 10, 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217A). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/udhr.pdf

United Nations (UN). (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/crc.pdf

Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I. & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, 61(5), 1243–1260. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azab035 https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azab035

Vorland, N., Selvik, S., Hjorthol, T., Kanten, A. B., & Blix, I. (2018). Tverretatlig samarbeid om barn og unge med problematisk eller skadelig seksuell atferd. [Interdisciplinary Cooperation towards children and young people displaying problematic or harmful sexual behaviour]. (Report 3). Retrieved from www.nkvts.no

Waters, J., Anstey, S., Clouston, T. & Sydor, A. (2021). Exploring teachers’ lived experiences of child-on-child harmful sexual behaviour at school: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 27(2), 219-232. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2021.1896810 https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2021.1896810

World Health Organization. (2017, October 19). Responding to children and adolescents who have been sexually abused. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/violence/clinical-response-csa/en/

Zembylas, M. (2017). Emotions, critical pedagogy, and human rights education, in: M. Bajaj (Ed). Human rights education: Theory, research, praxis, pp. 47-68. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812293890-004 https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812293890-004




How to Cite

Draugedalen, K., & Osler, A. (2022). Teachers as human rights defenders: strengthening HRE and safeguarding theory to prevent child sexual abuse . Human Rights Education Review, 5(2), 32–55. https://doi.org/10.7577/hrer.4776



Research articles

Cited by