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4.3 Sexually Harmful Behaviour carried out by Children and Young People


  1. Introduction
  2. Evaluation of Behaviour
  3. Referral to Social Services
  4. Action following a Referral Specifically for Children who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour
  5. Assessment

1. Introduction

1.1 Considerable care needs to be taken to determine whether an incident constitutes sexually harmful behaviour and to distinguish it from mutually consenting, age appropriate sexual exploration. If any professional is concerned about the behaviour of a child or young person they should telephone the Initial Response Team at Social Services for advice. See Referral to Social Services Procedure.
1.2 See Recognition of Significant Harm Procedure, Section 7, Sexual Abuse for more information.

2. Evaluation of Behaviour


In evaluating the likelihood that one child is sexually harming another consideration should be given to:

  • The nature of the relationship between the perpetrator and victim with particular attention to power differentials. The greater the degree of power held by the perpetrator in relation to the victim, the greater the opportunity for sexually harmful behaviours to take place;
  • The nature of the alleged acts i.e. how frequent/persistent;
  • The effect on the victim;
  • The sexualised behaviour of the children involved, i.e. the greater the departure from ‘normal’ sexual activity the stronger the suspicion of sexually harmful behaviour.

3. Referral to Social Services


The following should always be referred to Social Services:

  • Attempted or actual oral, vaginal or anal penetration of children, animals or dolls;
  • Using force to touch another’s genitals;
  • Simulated intercourse with peers;
  • Genital injury not explained by accidental cause;
  • Sexually explicit conversations with significantly younger children;
  • Touching the genitals of others;
  • Repeated or chronic genital exposure or public masturbation, simulated sexual activity (not intercourse) with peers, animals or toys;
  • Any other significant sexual behaviour.

Consideration should be given to making a referral and advice sought from the Initial Response Team in Social Services when there is:

  • Preoccupation with sexual themes or masturbation;
  • Non normative level of sexual knowledge;
  • Sexually explicit conversations with peers;
  • Attempts to explore other’s genitals;
  • Mutual or group masturbation;
  • Simulated foreplay with toys or peers.
3.3 Where there are concerns that a child or young person is displaying sexually harmful behaviours this should be brought to the attention of the appropriate line manager and a referral made to Social Services or the Police. The child or young person should not be questioned about the allegation before making the referral. See Referral to Social Services Procedure.
3.4 Children, particularly those living away from home, are also vulnerable to abuse by their peers. All such abuse should be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult.  Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as ’normal’ between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.

4. Action following a Referral Specifically for Children who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour

4.1 When such information is received it will be shared immediately with the police. The Police will be responsible for action taken in relation to the criminal justice system and Social Services will lead in relation to the child protection process, but neither should embark on a course of action which has implications for the other without appropriate consultation.
4.2 A Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be convened in line with the procedures set out in Strategy Discussions/Meetings Procedure. This should, wherever possible, be a face to face meeting, but where this cannot take place because the delay in holding one would prejudice the child’s welfare, this may take place over the telephone.

In planning Section 46 Enquiries, the following additional points should be considered:

  • Is there a need for specialist input regarding sexually harmful behaviours in children? If so how can this be accessed to inform the Strategy Meeting;
  • The Youth Justice Team should be invited to the Strategy Meeting;
  • If the child or victim is of school age the school should be invited to the Strategy Meeting;
  • Whether the alleged perpetrator has reached the age of criminal responsibility;
  • A social worker should not act as an appropriate adult for the interview of the alleged perpetrator;
  • The Youth Justice Team should ensure that an appropriate adult attends where the parent cannot or will not;
  • The safety of other children with whom the alleged perpetrator is in contact and whether any immediate action is necessary to protect them;
  • When a Strategy Meeting forms the view that a sexual incident has taken place it must commission a risk assessment of the behaviour of the alleged perpetrator in addition to the Core Assessment

See Section 5, Assessment for more information.

4.4 The risk assessment will inform the decision as to whether or not to convene a Child Protection Conference. A conference should only be held if the child or young person is considered personally to be at risk of continuing Significant Harm. If the conference decides that the child or young person should be subject to a Child Protection Plan, the plan must address the young person’s harmful behaviour and identify work to reduce the risk.
4.5 All those who work with children and young people who show sexually harmful behaviour should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children who sexually harm others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, and may have committed other offences. Such children are likely to be children in need, and some will in addition be suffering or at risk of Significant Harm, and may themselves be in need of protection.
4.6 Children and young people who abuse others should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others.
4.7 Schools may need assistance to draw up a Risk Management Plan and be provided with appropriate support and interventions.

Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who sexually harm others:

  • There should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of Social Services, Police, Youth Justice, Education (including Education Psychology) and Health (including Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) teams);
  • The needs of children and young people who sexually harm others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims;
  • An assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour see Section 5, Assessment for more information.

Decisions following the assessment will include:

  • The most appropriate action within the criminal justice system if the child is above the age of criminal responsibility;
  • Whether the young abuser should be subject of a Child Protection Conference;
  • What plan of action should be put into place to address the needs of the young abuser, detailing the involvement of all relevant agencies;
  • Cognizance should be taken of the level of risk within the context of the Isle of Man Offender and Potential Offender Management programme – see also Managing Individuals who Pose a Risk of Harm to Children Procedure.

5. Assessment


An assessment of the needs of the child or young person should include:

  • The nature and extent of the abusive behaviours. Expert professional judgement may be required, within the context of knowledge about normal childhood sexuality;
  • The context of the abusive behaviours;
  • The child’s development, and family and social circumstances;
  • Needs for services specifically focusing on the child’s harmful behaviour as well as other significant needs;
  • The risks to self and to others, including other children in the household, extended family, school peer group or wider social network. This risk is likely to be present unless the opportunity to further abuse is ended, the young person has acknowledged the abusive behaviour and accepted responsibility and there is agreement by the young abuser and his/her family to work with relevant agencies to address the problem.