Harmful sexual behaviour

Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) is a term used to describe developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour by children and young people which is harmful or abusive.  

HSB covers a range of behaviours which can be displayed towards younger children, peers, older children or adults. It is harmful to the children and young people behaving in these ways as well as those that the behaviour is directed towards. 

Expert Group 

A 2017 report identified that around half of the growth in all recorded sexual crime was in sexual cyber-crime. This usually involves young female victims and young male perpetrators. Figures indicate that almost a quarter of cyber-enabled crime had a victim and perpetrator who were both under 16 in 2016 to 2017. 

We established the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual offending Involving Children and Young People to respond to the growth in sexual crime perpetrated by young people.  

They consider the evidence and current responses to harmful sexual behaviour and offending as well as potential  actions to prevent and respond to such behaviours.

The Expert Group published Harmful sexual behaviour by children and young people: Expert Group Report  in January 2020 after fourteen months of deliberation, discussion and analysis. The findings relate to the nature, causes and frequency of harmful sexual behaviour by children. It highlights existing best practice and also sets out nineteen proposals for further action.  

HSB delivery group 

In response to the Expert Group’s proposal to establish a multi-agency group to oversee the implementation of their proposals, the National Child Protection Leadership Group agreed in December 2020 to set up a sub-group to progress implementation.

There is cross-sectoral representation on the group. This includes: 

  • education 

  • social work 

  • police 

  • health 

  • Crown Office and Proculator Fiscal Scotland 

  • Child Protection Committees Scotland 

  • Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice 

  • Convention of Scottish Local Authorities 

It also includes third sector organisations, including:  

  • Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland 

  • Stop it Now! Scotland 

  • National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children 

  • Barnardo’s 

Progress to deliver Expert Group proposals 

Several of the proposals made by the Expert Group are covered by existing policy programmes, such as: 

Further work undertaken includes:  

  • Publication of research, exploring potential links between childhood experiences and HSB:  

  • Publication of a survey of the views of children and young people on online harmful sexual behaviour 

  • Development of guidance for staff in education and training settings  

  • Roll-out of training to help schools tackle online problematic sexual behaviours, running over the next two academic years 

  • Planned changes to national data collections to align with revised National Child Protection Guidance and CARM indicators to improve insight into the scale and prevalence of HSB. 

Workstreams have been set up to consider: 

  • support for education, in particular professional learning, including the formation of a national network of Child Protection education leads in local authorities 

  • assessment and intervention, including the development of a resource for frontline practitioners, identifying levels of concern within a GIRFEC context and highlighting the resources and services available 

  • Publication of an HSB audit tool for the Parent Club website.

Link with groups tackling gender based violence in schools 

The chair of the HSB delivery group is also a member of the Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Schools working group

Following concerns around sexual harassment in schools, a joint meeting of the HSB delivery group and the GBV in Schools working group was held in September 2021. 

The meeting explored the work of both groups currently underway to address these concerns and aimed to identify any additional actions which should be taken.

If you are concerned about a child or young person

Call 999 if they are in immediate danger

Call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed

More about reporting a concern and for advice and support

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