Harmful Sexual Behaviour

What is Harmful Sexual Behaviour?

Harmful Sexual Behaviour – HSB (also called 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 HSB.

Harmful sexual behaviour can be defined as:

‘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’, NICE, September 2016.

There is similarity between HSB and other forms of abuse, particularly child sexual exploitation and it is important that professionals are aware about what is HSB.

Professionals should also refer to the WSCB’s information on: Child Abuse   Child Criminal Exploitation   Child Sexual Exploitation

Harmful sexual behaviour includes using sexually explicit words and phrases, inappropriate touching, using sexual violence or threats, and full penetrative sex with other children or adults.  It can happen face to face, virtual (on-line), through the use of gaming consoles (e.g. XBox, Play Station) and other social media and ‘apps’.

The understanding of harmful sexual behaviour needs to be within the context of healthy sexual behaviour and how to differentiate between harm and normal exploration and sexual development.

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

Wirral Identification Tool

The Wirral Youth Justice Service have developed a multi-agency HSB identification tool to help professionals determine and assess the level of sexual behaviours being displayed by a child.

The tool, and included guidance sets out, for different age ranges what are expected and normal behaviours, what are inappropriate or concerning, and what are likely to be harmful. For each level of behaviour the tool provides clear advice about how to respond.

The guidance document can be accessed by clicking the image below.

Children and Young People who Display Sexually Inappropriate and Harmful Behaviour Policy and Procedure

The Policy and Procedure document for professionals (revised February 2024) is available here:

7 Minute Briefings

The safeguarding partnership have also published 7 minute briefings for:

7 Minute Briefing Peer Sexual Abuse

Learning from Serious Case Reviews

A short briefing about learning from Serious Case Reviews where harmful sexual behaviour was the main presenting factor:

Harmful Sexual Behaviour – Learning from Serious Case Reviews

Useful Links and Resources

We have been informed by Brook that they have designed a new traffic light tool, and consequently they are recommending that the original traffic light tool not be used.  To use the new tool staff will need to attend training from Brook which is available at a cost (more information on the Brook website here). Professionals may continue to use the original tool if they wish.



Translate »