Step two: identifying sexualised behaviour
In order to respond appropriately to a child displaying problematic or harmful sexual behaviour, you need to decide where a child’s behaviour sits on the continuum.
A child's behaviour can change depending on the circumstances they are in and sexual behaviour can move in either direction along the continuum. So you should look at each situation individually, as well as considering any patterns of behaviour.
Indicators that behaviour is problematic or harmful
Children naturally explore and experiment with their sexuality as they grow up. If the behaviour seems to go beyond curiosity, for example if it is obsessive or compulsive, this might indicate it is problematic or harmful.
> Find out more about what is considered developmentally typical sexual behaviour
What to consider
The age of the child or young person who has displayed the sexual behaviour.
As children grow up they develop sexually. What is developmentally typical sexual behaviour for a 15-year-old may be problematic or harmful for an eight-year-old. Consider the child's developmental ability as well as their chronological age.
The age of the other children or young people involved.
If the children involved are the same age or developmental ability the behaviour may be considered developmentally typical. But if the children are of different ages or developmental abilities, the behaviour might be problematic or harmful.
Is the behaviour unusual for that particular child or young person?
If a child's behaviour is out of character, it's important to take time to consider why the child is behaving unusually.
Have all the children or young people involved freely given consent?
If the behaviour involves coercion, intimidation or forcing others to take part, it should be considered harmful.
Are the other children or young people distressed?
If the behaviour is upsetting others, this could indicate it is problematic or harmful.
Is there an imbalance of power?
If the child displaying the behaviour is in a more powerful position than the other children involved, this indicates it is problematic or harmful. This might happen if there are significant differences in age, size, power or developmental ability.
Is the behaviour excessive, degrading or threatening?
Excessive behaviour means behaviour that is obsessive, persistent, compulsive or has been going on for a long time. Any behaviour that involves force, coercion, bribery or threats is harmful.
Is the behaviour occurring in a public or private space?
Some behaviours, for example masturbation, might be considered developmentally typical if they are being carried out in private. But if they are being displayed in public, they would be considered problematic or harmful.
Other behaviours might give cause for concern if they are particularly secretive or are being carried out in private after intervention from adults.
Watch: deciding where a child’s sexualised behaviour sits on the Hackett continuum