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What do we mean by Harmful Sexual Behaviour:

'One or more children engaging in sexual discussions or acts that are inappropriate for their age or stage of development. These can range from using sexually explicit words and phrases to full penetrative sex with other children or adults.'

(Harmful sexual behaviour: what is harmful sexual behaviour ; NSPCC).

Why do we need to do something?

Recorded cases of children committing sexual offences against other children has risen by 78% in England and Wales between 2013 and 2016 (Barnardo’s, 2017)

A survey of adult survivors of child sexual abuse in England in Wales in 2011 found that around two thirds had been abused by a young person and not an adult (Radford, et al., 2011).

Evidence shows that with the correct intervention most young people do not continue to display HSB as an adult. As with other types of adolescent offending most young people once detected do not go on to offend sexually as adults: particular with the right preventative interventions and support. Intervention needs to focus on broad based behaviour and developmental goals not just on preventing further sexual abuse. Currently recidivism studies vary from 7 – 14%.

A young person is statistically no more likely to sexually harm if they have been sexually abused however when we look at the histories of young people who have displayed HSB they have often experienced complex neglect and according to Hackett et al’s 2013 study there was evidence of sexual abuse or strong suspicions of sexual abuse in 50% of the young males histories who were displaying HSB. Children under 12 are twice as likely to have been sexually abused, or live in highly sexualised environments with few boundaries where sex is often seen as a commodity or a means to get basic needs met. This research highlights the importance to develop intervention plans for young people who are displaying HSB which encourages disclosures, explores the young person’s experiences and doesn’t just focus on their behaviour.

What we need to do?

  • Make sure staff are trained in identifying what is healthy, inappropriate and Harmful Sexual Behaviour.
  • Know when and where to refer young people for support
  • Develop safety plans for the young person and their family
  • Undertake meaningful work to explore the young person’s experiences and create a fertile environment for them to disclose any abuse they have experienced.
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