Step one: gathering information
First, you need to gather as much information as possible so that you can work out whether a child is displaying healthy, problematic or harmful sexual behaviour.
Remember that for many children and parents this is a sensitive topic. Listen non-judgementally to what they are telling you.
You should consider:
- The age of the child or young person who has displayed HSB. As children grow up they develop sexually. What is 'normal' 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/developmental ability the behaviour may be considered 'normal'. But if the children are of different ages/developmental abilities, the behaviour might be problematic or harmful.
Indicators that behaviour is problematic or harmful
You should try to find out as much as possible about the behaviour that is being displayed. 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, this might indicate it is harmful.
You should also consider:
Is the behaviour unusual for that particular child or young person?
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, this might indicate it is harmful. 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 indicates it is problematic.
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. 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?
If the behaviour is particularly secretive or is being carried out in private after intervention from adults, this may be cause for concern.