Sexual abuse involves forcing or persuading a child to take part in sexual activities whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. This includes physical contact sexual assaults as well as exposing children to sexual materials or acts. Children can be sexually abused over the internet.
Since 2015 it has been a criminal offence to sexually communicate with a child. Grooming children relates to building a relationship of trust with a child for the purposes of manipulating, exploiting or abusing them. Children who experience sexual abuse are usually abused by someone they know, such as a family member or trusted adult (90%). Also, 30% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by another child. Harmful sexual behaviour by children is explored further below.
It is widely accepted that perpetrators will usually go through four steps in order to sexually abuse a child. David Finkelhor developed the ‘Four Preconditions Model’ in 1986. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation have explained this further.
Under the child sex offender disclosure scheme (also known as ‘Sarah’s Law’), anyone in England and Wales can formally ask the police if someone who has access to a child has a record for child sexual offences. Police will reveal relevant information to the person most able to protect the child (usually parent/carer). The disclosure scheme is available via the Home Office. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own similar schemes.
Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA)
Since 2003, Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) were set up in order for Police, Probation and Social Care to monitor the risks posed by offenders convicted of violent or sexual crimes.
The NSPCC state that “harmful sexual behaviour is developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour which is displayed by children and young people and which may be harmful or abusive" (derived from Hackett, 2014). It may also be referred to as sexually harmful behaviour or sexualised behaviour (NSPCC, updated 03 February 2020). This definition recognises that children’s sexual behaviour is on a continuum and should be considered in relation to their age and stage of development.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children can often be an expression of other problems or vulnerabilities. Children with harmful sexual behaviour will need a coordinated multi-agency response to assist them and their family. Many children may have specific needs that need to be identified and support offered whilst ensuring other children remain protected. A risk management plan should be agreed with all agencies supporting the child, which is developed and regularly reviewed separately from any child victims.
AIM2 Assessment Framework
This is a specialist assessment and intervention framework for professionals from Social Care and Youth Offending Service to use with children displaying harmful sexual behaviour. It is based on the ‘Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families’ used by Social Care and the ‘Asset’ framework used by the Youth Offending Service. This enables professionals to develop a risk management plan and an intervention plan of direct work to increase a child’s resilience and therefore reduce the likelihood of future harmful sexual behaviour.
THT Early Intervention Programme
Terence Higgins Trust (THT) offer a one-to-one education and early intervention programme to young people aged 13-25 years that may be vulnerable or at risk of sexual ill health.