There has been much debate over what constitutes sexually harmful behaviour. Unfortunately there is often confusion about what is appropriate sexual behaviour and different ages.
Some behaviours are clearly abusive; e.g. an adolescent engaging in sexual intercourse with a pre-pubescent child. This may not be the case when sexual activity occurs mutually between two adolescents that may be under the age of 16.
A sexually abusive act may then be those that occur when a juvenile commits a sexual act with a person of any age but that act is against the other person's will, is without consent and/or is aggressive, exploitative or threatening.
The NSPCC helpfully suggest Harmful Sexual Behaviour includes:
Using sexually explicit words and phrases.
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.
Sexual behaviour between children is also considered harmful if one of the children is much older – particularly if there is more than two years’ difference in age or if one of the children is pre-pubescent and the other isn’t (Davies, 2012).
However, a younger child can abuse an older child, particularly if they have power over them – for example, if the older child has a disability.
This definition does not take account of the wider range of sexual behaviours that maybe harmful to the child or others but lack the predatory, or clearly abusive acts.
The Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework produced by the NSPCC, Research in Practice and Durham University suggests that sexually harmful behaviours are:
“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.”