Carly brookfield tackles the taboo subject of sexually inappropriate behaviour within our industry
It’s an uncomfortable subject, but not talking about it doesn’t mean sexually inappropriate behavior, misconduct or abuse doesn’t exist in the sector. And not discussing such issues as an industry ignores a worrying problem. Allegations (founded or unfounded – the media and word of mouth can do as much damage with smoke, as with fire), complaints, removals from the register, criminal convictions etc, have a traumatic impact on the instructor and the pupil. And when such cases hit the headlines, they also cause serious reputational issues for the profession as a whole. Google ‘driving instructor’ and ‘sexual abuse’ and sadly you will see a ream of shocking cases which hit the headlines far quicker than ‘driver trainers save lives every day by teaching people how to drive safely’.
On the flipside however, trainers may also be crucial in spotting signs of, reporting and even stopping sexual abuse of their pupils by other parties. Safeguarding of pupils is a key role for anyone involved in the training of children and young adults and driver trainers need to understand their responsibilities in this regard. However, there is admittedly scant information and guidance available to ADIs about how they carry out this role appropriately – something we’re looking to fix (look out for more information next issue where we’ll focus more fully on this subject).
Over the next two issues we’ll take on the tricky task of tackling the taboo topic of sexual misconduct, harassment, or abuse from both perspectives. In this first feature, we’ll focus on how instructors themselves can sometimes be the perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior – both wittingly and unwittingly.
Sexually inappropriate behavior perpetrated by Trainers and Examiners
It’s a worrying fact that complaints of sexual nature against ADIs have risen in the last few years. Indeed, complaints regarding ‘sexual comments/touching a pupil’ and ‘sexual assault of a minor’ figure surprisingly highly as categories of serious complaint investigated by DVSA’s Counter-Fraud and Investigation Team (CIT). Whilst the 2015/16 figures are slightly down from 2014/15, looking at the average across both years we have seen more than a 100% increase over previous years.
Next feature we will cover:
What happens when someone makes a complaint of this nature about me?
What to do if you suspect sexual misconduct/ abuse?
Safeguarding guidelines for trainers
If you need advice on this subject please contact our ADI Helpdesk. You can give us information or discuss any issues of this nature without giving any personal details and all calls and emails are treated with the strictest confidence. Our helpdesk team are able to give broad advice and information but also point you in the direction of qualified legal advice and support from additional agencies if necessary. Call 0208 686 8010 or email
I would caveat this data with the theory there may be factors which contribute to the increase over the last two years, i.e. how data was collated and categorised in 2013/14 verses the subsequent two years or what is now known (colloquially at least) as the Saville Effect, where there has been a significant upswing in reported cases of sexual abuse/misconduct overall etc. You could also take the line that these statistics are ‘merely’ complaints and not cases of removal from the register or criminal conviction. However, the cases recorded in the table above only reflect those where the DVSA’s Counter-Fraud and Investigation Team (CFIT) launched a serious investigation, i.e. where there was sufficient evidence to merit further official investigation at least.
Those cases, which do result in a court case and criminal conviction, will easily hit the headlines as the media (given the societal perception of instructors holding a position of trust akin to school teachers and college lecturers) knows this the type of story that is of real interest to the general public. At DIA, we do from time to time deal with calls from both the public and ADIs with concerns of this nature (and even from regional police forced investigating more serious incidents).
Here’s just a few examples of cases we have been involved with directly or which have been reported publicly in the media (clearly these cases have been anonymised)
In 2014, we were contacted by a regional police force as part of an ongoing investigative operation focused on the sexual abuse of minors. Allegations of a highly serious nature had been made about a local ADI who had apparently been soliciting sexual favours in return for lessons and was also suspected to be part of a wider ring of individuals involved in grooming and sexual exploitation. The matter was reported to the DVSA who worked with the police to investigate the matter further.
In 2015, a Kent driving instructor filmed himself sexually abusing children in the back of his car after picking them up from the school gates. The trainer lured two children into his vehicle after befriending them at the school gates and then drove them to a remote country lane where he abused them and even filmed the sickening assaults on his mobile phone. He pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual activity with a child and arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography at Maidstone Crown Court and was sentenced to four years in prison, placed on the sex offenders register and is barred from working with adults and young adults.
Driving examiners are also vulnerable to allegations of a sexual nature – and can be guilty of sexual misconduct. In 2013, we were contacted by a member with a complaint on behalf of their pupil. During the female pupil’s driving test, the examiner in question had used sexually inappropriate language and behaved in a sexually intimidating manner throughout. The pupil described how, during her test, the examiner quizzed her on her sexuality and sexual relationships as well as at one point asking her to stop the car for no other reason than to ask her further sexually related questions. Clearly we supported both the pupil and trainer in reporting this case to the DVSA and an investigation took place, resulting in disciplinary procedures for the examiner in question.
What is sexual misconduct?
Sexual misconduct is a broad term encompassing any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation. Sexual misconduct can be committed by a person of any gender, and it can occur between people of the same or different gender.
Harmful sexual behaviour includes:
Using sexually explicit words and phrases
Using sexual violence or threats
Full penetrative sex with other children or adults.
Many of the cases and complaints meriting serious investigation by DVSA and the police and resulted in action were carried out by an individual who arguably had a level of awareness that what they were doing was inappropriate, if not the full intent to carry out such acts. However, we know from frantic calls to our helpdesk that there are trainers who have placed themselves (and their pupils) in a precarious position, who don’t even realise their behavior may be construed as sexually inappropriate.
Sometimes, when hearing both the complainant side and the defendant’s side together you can see that the ADI in question was genuinely unaware and unintentional in their behavior. However, there are also clear cases where we are staggered that the trainer still cannot see, even after receiving a complaint against them, what they did wrong. Whilst many professionals never cross the line in any way and are absolutely aware of what is appropriate behavior, sadly the queries and complaints we sometimes receive suggest others need some guidance.
Managing your interactions with pupils appropriately
We have to be pragmatic about the one-on-one nature of practical driver training delivered in the close physical confines of a car, and the relationship which develop between pupil and instructor. Sexual harassment claims can arise even from the most innocent of situations. Imagine:
You are always careful about physical interactions when working with your pupils but when a new pupil struggles with clipping their seatbelt you reach across and assist them, coming into bodily contact. They decide they have been touched inappropriately and tell you they are making a complaint.
You and your pupil have developed a good relationship and your pupil confides in you about relationship issues. The pupil’s parents hear that conversations of this nature have taken place and raise a complaint about your conduct.
You built your business and now you have six franchisees. A pupil comes to you and says one of your trainers sexually harassed her. Your school as a whole could be implicated in a case against the individual trainer.
It can be difficult to always keep conversations (which develops over working relationship over the space of several weeks or months) one hundred per cent work-related without some degree of crossover. You are not robots after all and a little friendly chat serves to build this rapport with our customers, making the time spent together a little more natural, and less intimidating for the nervous learner.
It is the job though as the professional ADI to know the limits in this context, and there is no one definitive approach to employ all the time as the response we give will depend on the context, the person, and the situation at the time.
This is a two-way street. As much as we need to manage how much personal information a pupil gives to us (and the level of the conversations we allow them to have with us), as ADIs we also need to keep our discussions and comments on the correct side of the professional line.
Physical contact is almost always inadvisable, with the exception being if there is a safety issue. Even then, we need to ensure that we have worked to manage and mitigate any safety risks (i.e. chosen the most appropriate route for the time of day and weather conditions, and planned the lesson according to their level of ability for that day, to avoid having to grab the steering wheel in the first place, for example) so we mitigate the need to physically interact with the pupil.
During Part 3 training, we are taught to mention to the learner about ‘if I have to grab the steering wheel and steer the car to the right, my hand will go here (at the bottom of the steering wheel) and push up. If I have to turn the car to the left, my hand will start here (at the top) and pull down. If I accidentally make contact with you whilst doing this, I apologise in advance’ (this usually raises a smile with the learner and a ‘ok that’s fine’ response). The same applies for dual controls where we mention we have them, why they are there, when I could use them and what happens if I do.
The role of the ADI is a very complex one when you start analysing each aspect that the role entails and we need to be suitably self-aware and able to pick up on small clues from our customers that something may be up. This may not have anything to do with us and they could be having issues that are entirely separate to their lessons and their ADI, but as we get to understand each person more and more, we can piece together their boundaries and know how to respect them.