Harmful Sexual Behaviour

This toolkit aims to support and assist education staff, partner agencies and CYP practitioners in their work with children, young people and families. Information, advice and resources specific to Harmful Sexual Behaviour are provided within this dedicated page.


Harmful Sexual Behaviour may also be referred to as ‘Peer on Peer Sexual Assault/Harassment’ or ‘Teen Sexual Harm’, terms of which describe: 

“Any behaviour of a sexual nature between under 18s, of any gender, which causes assault or harassment to a child or group of children”.

The term ‘behaviour of a sexual nature’, can include actions which are unintentional, mistaken or excused by young people as ‘a bit of a joke’ or ‘banter’, but which can equally have a detrimental effect on the those involved.

Increase in Sexualised Behaviour among children

Concerns have been raised nationally regarding the increase in sexualised behaviour and offences being committed among under 18s both in school and in their social life. The number of reported sexual offences by under 18s against other under 18s in England and Wales rose by 71% between 2013 and 2017, and the number of sexual offences on school premises also increased by 138% from 386 to 922 offences.

Many professionals and practitioners are of the opinion that online access to pornography and other inappropriate sexual content, has contributed to earlier sexualisation of children, along with other factors such as peer pressure and media influences which some say have contributed to normalising concerning sexualised behaviour.

Experiencing peer sexual abuse can significantly impact a young person, including symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Young people can often be confused whether they have experienced peer sexual abuse or not and may be reluctant to tell anyone.

Specific social situations and locations can pose a risk to harmful sexual behaviour, examples of how this can happen according to the situation or place have been set out under the relevant tab below:

Me and my boyfriend are both 14 and he came over earlier because we had talked about having sex for the first time. Although I had said yes before, I told him I didn’t want to do it. If two people were going to ‘do it’ but one of them decides they don’t want to and lets the other person know, but the other person goes through with it and does it anyway, is that classed as rape? (Boy, 14)

My friend’s 15 year old brother has been acting weirdly around her at home, trying to barge in on her when she is getting changed, and is always standing too close to her, or grabs at her. He drew back the shower curtain on her when he knew she was in there the other day. She doesn’t want to tell her parents as she says he is their favourite. (Anon)

My ex-boyfriend has been touching me inappropriately and trying to make me do things
I don’t want to do. I just freeze up when he comes over and I don’t feel strong enough to stop him. I don’t feel like I can tell people what is happening as he is a family friend and we are expected to hang out together. My anxiety and panic attacks have been getting really bad and it makes me self-harm more. (Gender unknown, 17)

A nine-year-old boy at the school where I work displays very challenging and sexualised language and behaviour. He simulates having sex and grabs children and thrusts at them. His drawings are often of sexual parts and depict violent scenes. I am concerned that the school have not responded appropriately to concerns raised over the past year. (Teacher)

I am really concerned about an eight-year-old boy who is displaying harmful sexual behaviour. Some examples include him pulling out his genitals and simulating sex in front of other children, playing with his genitals in public and trying to touch other children’s genitals. He is also very aggressive and violent towards other children. (Anonymous helpline contact)

There is a boy in school who simulates sexual acts on the girls, forcing them over a desk and ‘dry-humping’ them. When challenged he simply laughs and says its banter. One girl looked really uncomfortable but laughed and went along with it. I don’t think she wanted to make a fuss.(Girl, 15)

 A few years ago at school a boy put his hand up my skirt during a lesson. He went on to do it again on multiple occasions. At the time I felt numb, I was in shock but I didn’t really realise what was happening. I just thought it was boys being boys, but now that I’m older I know it was wrong. I’m still confused about whether it was sexual assault and whether I’m just overreacting, but I’ve been thinking about it recently and it’s brought everything back up again. I want to talk to someone about it but I’m scared they’ll say that I’m exaggerating. (Girl, 18)

My daughter’s friend came to play at our house. I went upstairs and walked into the bedroom to see my daughter pulling her knickers down and her friend sat with her mobile phone about to take a photo of her vagina. I asked what they were doing. The friend acted surprised and said “nothing” and my daughter dropped her dress down. I asked to see the friend’s phone and there were photographs of my daughter’s bare bottom. (Parent)

I think I was raped by somebody I knew from school when I was six. When we were in his room he would take my clothes off and pressure me into doing sexual things, even though I told him no. At the time I didn’t really know what was happening, I didn’t know why the things he was doing were wrong until recently. I tried to block out the memories of what happened, but now I’ve started thinking about it again I feel upset and embarrassed. I also feel guilty that I didn’t try and stop it at the time or tell anybody. (Girl, 14)

My friend found out about a party through a closed Facebook group. It was being held at a local community hall, and we thought it would be great, they even had a DJ. When we got there, there were way more guys than girls, and several started paying us a lot of attention. They got us loads of drinks and we were dancing and everything. I don’t remember anything after that, and we think that our drinks were spiked. My friend says she heard some of the boys filmed what they were doing with the girls and I’m so scared something like that happened to me. (Girl, 14)

I was raped the other night. It was after a party and my friend was making sure I got home safe. My memory is really blurry, but I remember waking up and he was on top of me, then I blacked out. I messaged him later and he told me that we’d had sex, I feel disgusted. I don’t want to tell anybody because they might make me report it, and if I did they would just say it’s my fault for being drunk. I feel so ashamed and dirty. I just keep thinking to myself that if I hadn’t drunk as much then this wouldn’t have happened. I feel awful, I’ve struggled eating and sleeping and I can’t concentrate on anything, I don’t know what to do. (Girl, 18)

I met up with a boy that I knew in a park. I thought we were just hanging out as friends, but he forced me to do things and touch him in ways that I didn’t want to. I’m really shocked about it all, I feel awful. I’m scared to go anywhere on my own now and I’m terrified about seeing him again, even though he thinks everything is fine and texted me saying he had a good time. I feel like telling the police but what could they do? If he denies what happened then there’s no proof, and they’ll probably just think that it could have been worse. Plus they’ll just blame me because I agreed to meet with him in the first place, even though I had no idea that any of this was going to happen. (Girl, 14)

My friend and I met a couple of older boys in the local park, they used to bring drink for us, and let us smoke joints. We would hang out with them. They started to pressurise us into doing things to them, I was really uncomfortable but felt I had to as they said we owed them for all the drink. (Girl, 14)

I’m feeling really low at the moment. My boyfriend used to be really nice and caring but now he’s being so mean to me. We were texting the other day and I ended up sending a picture to him of myself naked. I feel so stupid for doing it. Now he says if I don’t have sex with him he’s going to upload the pictures to Facebook. I’ve never had sex before and I really don’t want to, but I don’t want anyone to see the pictures. I really can’t cope, I feel like just ending it all. (Girl, 17)

I sent a picture to my boyfriend of myself naked. I didn’t want to even send it but he threatened me if I didn’t. Now he’s sent it to his friends and everyone at school has seen it. I feel so ashamed. Now he’s asking me for more pictures and I don’t know what to do. He’s very forceful, I don’t really like having sex with him but when I say no he just carries on. I’ve tried talking to my friends but they all say it’s my fault that everyone’s seen the pictures because I was the one who took them in the first place. (Girl, 13)

My ex-boyfriend is harassing me online. He’s really abusive. If I don’t do what he says over the webcam he shouts and swears at me. I feel like he’s using me for his own sexual gains. Even though it isn’t physical I feel as though I’m being violated. I feel so disgusted with myself. (Boy, 17)

The Law

Almost all cases of harmful sexual behaviour will involve actions likely to constitute an offence; however, Hampshire Police always prioritise the safety and welfare of all children involved first and foremost.

When incidents are reported, the police response is to safeguard, protect and educate children over criminalisation, in some serious cases, a formal sanction may be unavoidable.

Prom and Social Events

The risk of peer on peer sexual assault is increased in social situations where young people may consume alcohol and/or recreational drugs; although school proms do not permit consumption of alcohol, it is well known that many students will attend after parties. In recognition of this risk, a poster campaign to raise awareness of consent has been created to remind students of the consent and staying safe. The pack consists of a series of posters to be used by schools in the lead up to prom and to liaise with the prom venue for permission to display in areas such as toilets and cloakrooms. The full selection of posters can be accessed via the link button below.

Prom Consent Awareness Pack
House Party Conversation Poster

Advice & Reporting

In 2016/17, 663 contacts were made to the NSPCC from adults about children displaying concerning sexualised behaviour which included:

  • children using developmentally inappropriate sexually explicit language
  • sexualised role-play/games
  • children exposing genitals to other children
  • inappropriate sexual touching
  • children simulating sexual acts
  • older children persuading younger children to perform/watch sexual acts
  • creating and sharing sexually explicit images
  • sexual assault, including rape.

The NSPCC provide a dedicated 24/7 helpline to respond to concerns raised by adults about a child which be made anonymously. Alternatively, you may wish to speak to a local specially trained officer in Hampshire Police by calling 101.

Additional Information and Resources

NSPCC: Provide a dedicated Harmful Sexual Behaviour information page along with a Sexual Violence and Harassment CASPAR Briefing within its NSPCC Learning Portal which summarises the DfE Guidance for schools and colleges.

Home Office: Disrespect Nobody campaign was updated in April 2018 to tackle teen relationship abuse and harassment, resources include posters, banners and GIFs which users can access via the button on this page.

PSHE Association: The PSHE Association provides additional resources and guidance to schools to support integrating this topic into PSHE. Dedicated resources include age appropriate PowerPoints and discussion guides.

Department for Education: In May 2018 published non-statutory advice for schools and colleges on how to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence and harassment between children. The guidance defines what sexual violence and sexual harassment is, how to minimise the risk of it occurring and what to do when incidents occur or are alleged to have occurred, including legal responsibilities.