Legislation and guidance
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own legislation and guidance about how professionals must respond to child abuse and protect children from harm. These include key messages for practice for professionals working to safeguard children at risk of harmful sexual behaviour.
See our pages on child protection in:
Guidance for the education sector
In each UK nation, the statutory guidance for schools includes information on preventing and responding to harmful sexual behaviour and peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has also provided advice for schools and colleges on how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence and harassment between children (DfE, 20211).
> Read our summary of the sexual violence and harassment guidance
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education (DE) has published guidance for schools and other education settings on how to identify and manage harmful sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people (Department of Education (DE), 20222).
In Wales, the Welsh Government has published guidance for education settings on peer sexual abuse, exploitation and harmful sexual behaviour (Welsh Government, 20203).
This guidance supplements the All Wales practice guide: safeguarding children where there are concerns about harmful sexual behaviour (Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 20214).
Pupils, parents and teachers across the UK can also use the Report Abuse in Education Helpline to express any concerns about current and non-recent experiences of sexual abuse.
> Get more information about the Helpline
Sex and relationships education
UK schools should teach children about sex and relationships. This should include discussions about peer-on-peer sexual abuse, consent, healthy relationships and sexuality.
> Find out more about the guidance relating to relationships and sex education across the UK
Guidance for other sectors
In England, Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people provides guidance for professionals on responding to children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour, including those on remand or serving community or custodial sentences (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 20165).
In England and Wales the Home Office provides guidance for police and practitioners on Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This includes the requirements for children and young people who have been convicted of sexual offences to keep agencies informed of their whereabouts (the notification requirements) (Home Office, 20186).
In Northern Ireland, the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) has published a policy and procedure on harmful sexual behaviour (PDF), which sets out the principles of effective child protection intervention for children who sexually abuse others (SBNI, 20217).
In Scotland, the National guidance - under-age sexual activity: meeting the needs of children and young people and identifying child protection concerns (PDF) is designed to be used alongside the National guidance for child protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 20108).
In Wales, the All Wales Practice Guide: safeguarding children where there are concerns about harmful sexual behaviour provides information on how agencies can work together to safeguard children who display HSB (Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 20219).
Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. However national guidance highlights the need to prioritise safeguarding issues rather than criminalising young people.
In England and Wales, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn't in the public interest.
> Read our summary of the legislation and guidance about sexting