Children or young people who display sexually harmful behaviour

Sexually harmful behaviour is the term used to describe children or young people who sexually abuse other children, young people or adults. The sexual abuse perpetrated by children can be just as harmful as that perpetrated by an adult, so it is important to remember the impact on the victim of the abuse as well as to focus on the treatment of the child or young person exhibiting the sexually harmful behaviour.


Abusive/inappropriate behaviour is often characterised by a lack of true consent, the presence of a power imbalance and exploitation.


The boundary between what is abusive and what is part of normal childhood or youthful experimentation can be blurred. The ability of professionals to determine whether a child’s sexual behaviour is developmental, inappropriate or abusive will depend upon the related concepts of true consent, power imbalance and exploitation. This may include children who exhibit a range of sexually problematic behaviour such as indecent exposure, obscene telephone calls, fetishism, bestiality and sexual abuse against adults or children and downloading indecent images of children from the internet.


Children and young people, particularly living away from home, are vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering or at risk of suffering Significant Harm from an adverse source. 


A significant proportion of sex offences are committed by teenagers and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abusive, and between appropriate and exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as “normal” between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.


What to do if abuse is caused by children or young people who display sexually harmful behaviour

The West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures Manual contains guidance on the procedures that practitioners should follow if a Child or Young Person who Display's Sexually Harmful abusive behaviour.