Sexually Harmful Behaviour

Sign, symptoms and effects

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of sexually harmful behaviour:

Good practice guidance

Child on child sexual abuse is an emerging issue of national awareness and concern. Below is a short checklist of some of the critical factors that all agencies and practitioners must remember when dealing with sexualised behaviour cases:

  • All agencies’ assessments should be ‘integrated’ and ‘holistic’ when they have concerns about sexualised behaviour by a child, especially if they have a learning difficulty (as a common additional factor can be poor communication and language skills). Assessments must always attempt to establish the cause of the behaviour and if abuse or grooming is a factor.
  • Agencies (social care, education, police and health) should meet to share information and agree their assessments in such cases so that the quality of multi-agency assessment, planning and risk management is improved.
  • Children’s social care must ensure that health/education and the SARC (St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre) are included in strategy discussions and assessments for sexualised behaviour in children.
  • Remember to assess all potential victims as well as the alleged perpetrator. The SARC should be used for sexual abuse medical assessments of victims.
  • Assessment and intervention MUST take account of Learning Difficulties and Disibility factors and the mental functional age of the perpetrator.
  • Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) to be used in evidence gathering and interviewing.


Practitioners should no longer use the Brook Traffic Light tool as it no longer represents best practice. Steps are being taken to provide a suitable alternative, but in the meantime, practitioners should continue to exercise their professional judgment and consider the following points: Risk changes over time, it is not a static thing. If it were, it would be called certainty. In children, time, place, mood, illness and many other factors can all influence the presence as well as the degree of risk. In short, risk needs to be kept under constant consideration and previous assessments/screening tools may not be as relevant now. Risk is always contextual. For example; where a child is, who they are with, what they are doing, the time of day/night, the degree of supervision present, their emotional state, current events in their lives etc. Instead of asking what risk he/she poses, it is better to ask “what risk does the situation present?” Looking at risk with a view of children and context is a more balanced view. Finally, consideration should be given to the following question as this will help you identify risk.

“Risk of what, to whom and in what circumstances?”

Top tips:

  • Don’t assign levels of risk to children as this implies it is them alone that present the risk.
  • Be specific about the what the risk is, to whom and how they are a risk. What are the circumstances?
  • Consider next steps and always discuss your concerns with your line manager if you are not sure what to do.
(With thanks to Jonny Matthew for support with this topic)

There is also a wealth of information and support available via the Lucy Faithful Foundation website

Concerned about a child or young person’s sexual behaviour?