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Inappropriate sexualised behaviour

Sexual exploration and play is a natural part of childhood sexual development, and helps children to develop physically and emotionally. Throughout their development, every child will express themselves sexually in different ways.

A child’s behaviour will depend on their age and circumstances. The NSPCC website describes the behaviours typical of each developmental stage. It is normal to see a child exhibiting behaviour that is slightly more or less mature for their age.

Taken from

The NSPCC have recently published a Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework: An evidence-informed operational framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours which uses the following definition:

“Sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years old that are developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards self or others, or be abusive towards another child, young person or adult.”

(derived from Hackett, 2014).

The aforementioned document makes the distinction between sexual behaviours that are problematic and those that are abusive. Problematic behaviours are more likely to occur in the younger age groups and may be defined as behaviours involving sexual body parts that are developmentally inappropriate or potentially harmful to the child or others. There could be a range of reasons for this including learning disability, mental health problem, trauma anxiety or even curiosity.

Abusive behaviours involve an element of coercion or manipulation and a power imbalance that means the victim cannot give informed consent, and where the behaviour has potential to cause physical or emotional harm.

The NSPCC identify harmful sexual behaviour as including:

  • using sexually explicit words and phrases
  • inappropriate touching
  • using sexual violence or threats
  • full penetrative sex with other children or adults

Children and young people who develop harmful sexual behaviour harm themselves and others.

NSPCC: Harmful sexual behaviour

1 in 3 of all reported child sexual assaults are perpetrated by young people

(Horne et al 1991)

50% of adult sex offenders report the onset of sexual offending during adolescence

(Abel at al 1985)

Child sexual abuse in the family environment is defined as sexual abuse perpetrated or facilitated in or out of the home, against a child under the age of 18, by a family member, or someone otherwise linked to the family context or environment, whether or not they are a family member. Within this definition, perpetrators may be close to the victim (e.g. father, uncle, and stepfather) or less familiar (e.g. family friend, babysitter).’

It is essential that the school’s approach to managing these behaviours is consistent amongst all staff and is based upon a shared understanding of the issue.

Identifying and Responding to Cases of Harm Arising from Under Age Sexual Activity


The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is detailed on the Crown Prosecution Service website.

  • The age of consent is 16 (i.e. agreed by choice and with the freedom and capacity to make that choice) irrespective of gender and sexuality.
  • Because children can and do abuse and exploit other children, the Act makes it an offence for children under 16 to engage in sexual activity, to protect children who are victims.
  • However, children of the same or similar age are highly unlikely to be prosecuted for engaging in sexual activity, where the activity is mutually agreed and there is no abuse or exploitation.
  • The term “sexual offences” covers a variety of offences including rape, sexual assault, offences against children, and those related to prostitution, extreme pornography and the possession and distribution of indecent images.

The Crown Prosecution Service has issued guidance to prosecutors, which sets out the criteria they should consider when deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.

People with learning disabilities:

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence for a person to involve another person in sexual activity where he or she has a mental disorder and because of that mental disorder, or for reasons related to it, is unable to refuse involvement in the sexual activity. ‘Mental disorder’ is defined as “mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of the mind, psychopathic disorder and any other disorder or disability of mind”. A person with a “learning disability” would fall within this definition. Clearly the capacity to consent will depend on the extent or the mental disorder or learning disability (Section 30).

Providing information to under 16s including under 13s:

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that under 16s, including those under 13, have a right to confidentiality whether asking for contraceptive advice or any other medical treatment. In light of the Act concerns were raised about the implications for those who provide sexual health care and advice to young people, an exception has been introduced, in statute, to make it clear that a person does not commit an offence if s/he acts for the purpose of:

  1. protecting the child from sexually transmitted infection, or
  2. protecting the physical safety of the child, or
  3. preventing the child from becoming pregnant, or
  4. promoting the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice as long as s/he does not act for the purpose of causing or encouraging the activity constituting an offence or the child’s participation in it. Nor does it apply if the person is acting for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.

Potential school actions

It will always be necessary to refer cases of sexual activity involving under 13 year olds, because sex with someone under 13 is a very serious offence and indicates a risk of significant harm to the child, in line with the education provision child protection policy.

Sexual activity with a child aged under 16 years is also an offence. Where it is consensual it may be less serious than if the child were aged under 13 years but may, nevertheless, have serious consequences for the welfare of the young person. Consideration should be given in every case of sexual activity involving a child or young person aged 13 to 15 as to whether there should be a discussion with other agencies and whether a referral should be made to Children’s Social Work Services. Within this age range the younger the child the stronger the presumption must be that sexual activity will be a matter of concern.

LSCB: Multi-Agency Protocol for Identifying and Responding to Cases of Harm Arising from Under Age Sexual Activity

Cases of concern should be managed in line with the school child protection policy and referred to Solihull multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH). Anyone concerned about such sexual activity should initially discuss this with the designated safeguarding lead.

Sexual activity involving a 16 or 17 year old, even if it does not involve an offence, may still involve harm or the likelihood of harm being suffered. Professionals should still bear in mind the considerations and processes outlined in this guidance in assessing whether harm is being suffered, and should share information as appropriate. It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them.

LSCB: Multi-Agency Protocol for Identifying and Responding to Cases of Harm Arising from Under Age Sexual Activity

LSCB procedures contain a non-exhaustive list of factors which may increase levels of concern and subsequent actions.

Following the notification or disclosure of sexualised inappropriate behaviour, the following actions should be considered:

  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour in children and young people should be dealt with guided by the same policy and guidelines as other inappropriate behaviour in school.
  • School staff will also need to follow the procedures outlined in their child protection/safeguarding/behaviour/anti-bullying policies and discuss concerns with the designated member of staff for child protection.
  • If the school becomes aware that a child is displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, an assessment should be made as to whether or not the behaviour is abusive. This should involve information gathering from relevant adults in school in order to establish where the behaviour sits on a continuum from that which could be expected of a child/young person at that age/stage to that which may indicate has been abused/is abusing others.
  • If the behaviour is inappropriate but not thought to be abusive, the school may wish to speak to the parent or carer to devise a consistent strategy to manage the behaviours, eliminate any medical reasons underpinning the behaviours, and consider a possible referral to other agencies (e.g. Solar, Educational Psychologist, SEMH team).
  • Where the pupil’s behaviour is considered to be abusive, it is essential that those subject to the abuse are reassured that they are being taken seriously and that they will be supported and kept safe. Further guidance can be found here: Advice for schools and colleges on how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence and harassment between children.
  • Where a pupil’s behaviour results in a serious breach of the behaviour policy, or the pupil is persistently breaching the policy by repeating this behaviour, the school may decide to exclude the pupil, either on a fixed term or permanent basis. A permanent exclusion should only take place where behaviour is sufficiently serious and allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.

Curriculum (Universal provision through PSHE)

The school’s PSHE curriculum should include:

  • High quality relationships and sex education for all pupils appropriate to their age, needs and maturity. In Solihull’s schools with primary age children, this will be supported by the use of the Jigsaw PSHE resource. Jigsaw fully meets the DfE draft guidance for Relationships and Health Education (to be compulsory by 2020).
  • The following topics will be of relevance when providing a curriculum that empowers pupils to recognise and manage risk and to keep themselves safe: naming sexual body parts; public/private places; acts and body parts; personal space; consent; laws around sexual activity; how and when to access help and support; pornography and the sharing of sexual imagery; protective behaviours.
  • Anti-bullying learning that, where appropriate, includes learning about sexual bullying and harrassment.
  • The Health and Wellbeing website contains up-to-date links to resources that will provide support for planning an appropriate curriculum that meets the needs of all pupils.

Resources and additional support

LSCB procedures for children who abuse others may be of relevance in some circumstances.

LSCB Multi-Agency Protocol for identifying and responding to cases of harm arising from under age sexual activity may also be of pertinence.

A MASH referral may be necessary in order to safeguard the child/young person

MASH:  (0121) 788 4333

Out of Hours (EDT) (0121) 605 6060

Updates and changes


These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information.  Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.