Preventing harmful sexual behaviour

Children and young people are most likely to be at risk of sexual abuse within their family and community. But not all sexual abuse is carried out by adults. Around one third of child sexual abuse is thought to be carried out by under 18s.

And as Covid-19 restrictions mean that some children might be spending more time unsupervised offline and online or away from supportive adults, there’s a real danger that cases of harm might increase.

That’s why we’ve made a toolkit for parents, carers and professionals to help them be aware of the risks of harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people, so that they know what they can do to prevent it. It’s got support, advice and information, plus resources and links to useful organisations.

What is harmful sexual behaviour?

Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) is a term used to describe sexual actions that are outside what is safe for a young person’s stage of development. It includes behaviours that can harm either the child or young person themselves, or another person.

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between abusive and normal sexual behaviours in children. Children, particularly in younger age groups, might engage in such behaviour without knowing that it is wrong or abusive.

That’s why it can be more accurate to talk about harmful sexual behaviour rather than abuse. This includes:

  • sexual actions that are outside what is safe for a young person’s stage of development
  • actions that can harm either the child or young person themselves, or another person.

Child sexual abuse is hard to think about, and even harder to talk about it. But talking about the issues means that more people know where the risks lie and how to prevent them.

How can the toolkit help prevent harmful sexual behaviour?

The toolkit is suitable for parents, carers and professionals working with children.

As well as support, advice and information, it has links to key organisations and helplines, resources about harmful sexual behaviour by children, tips about internet safety, advice about sexual development and preventing child sexual abuse.

Download the toolkit here.

What can you do to help?

Please share our toolkit with your colleagues, friends and family, and on social media, to make sure as many people as possible have the information, help and support they need.

You can share our social media posts and get in touch if you’d like us to suggest content for your website or newsletters.

If you’ve used or shared the toolkit, please take a few minutes to help us evaluate the toolkit, so we can continue to offer the most useful and practical information.

How else can we help?

If you’re worried about a child’s sexual behaviour, either in the real world or online, then call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900 for advice, support and information from an experienced advisor.

If you’re not ready to speak to someone yet, you can use our secure messaging service.

We also have a guide for parents worried about a child or young person who has got into trouble online and information if your child is being investigated for getting into trouble online.

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