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Safeguarding: Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) is developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour which is displayed by children and young people and which may be problematic, harmful or abusive. HSB encompasses a range of behaviour, which can be displayed towards younger children, peers, older children or adults. Where HSB is directed towards another child, it can be considered to be a type of peer on peer abuse.  It is harmful to the children and young people who display it, as well as the people it is directed towards. 

Harmful sexual behaviour can/may:

  • Cause developmental damage
  • Occur between children of any age and gender
  • Involve individuals or groups, targeting other individuals or groups
  • Occur online and/or offline
  • Be progressive and escalate

Harmful Sexual Behaviour can be indicative of underlying safeguarding concerns; children who exhibit harmful sexual behaviour may have experienced abuse or trauma themselves. Where there are concerns about HSB involving learners, staff should respond in line with their settings child protection policy and report all concerns to the Designated Safeguarding Lead.

Schools and colleges should read and follow part five of KCSIE alongside the DfE advice 'Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Between Children in Schools and Colleges' which addresses:

  • what sexual violence and sexual harassment constitutes
  • important context to be aware of, including what is consent, power imbalances,and developmental stages
  • harmful sexual behaviour (HSB), including that a child displaying HSB may be an indication that they are a victim of abuse themselves
  • related legal responsibilities for schools and colleges
  • advice on a whole school or college approach to preventing child on child sexual violence and sexual harassment
  • more detailed advice on responding to reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment, including safeguarding and supporting both the victim(s) and alleged perpetrator(s).