Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) is a sexual behaviour expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years old that is developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards themselves or others, or be abusive towards another child, young person or adult. (Hackett, 2014).

This behaviour needs to be understood within a wider societal culture that can, at times, appear to normalise or trivialise sexual harassment and violence. We all have a role in promoting healthy and consensual relationships, and in identifying and understanding behaviours which are not acceptable. 

Possible Indicators of At-Risk or Abusive Behaviour

  • Sexual Behaviour: Behaviours beyond those expected for age (e.g. vaginal or oral intercourse, simulating intercourse with clothes off, sexually explicit proposals, compulsive masturbation). Behaviours become repetitive or obsessive. They are planned. They are not isolated events.

  • Nature of Interaction: Use of force, coercion, secrecy, or all three. Force may be physical or social in nature. It may involve threats, bribes, trickery, persuasion, intimidation, or peer pressure, potentially aimed at preventing the victim from disclosing. Any sexual acts unwanted by recipient. Any sadistic quality such as humiliation or degradation. The victim will present as having less power and control. There's likely to be a disparity in age; size; status; IQ; emotional vulnerability, and so on.

  • Emotional Behaviour: A range of emotional responses are associated with HSB, including: anger, rage, fear, loneliness, a lack of empathy for victims, and excitement or arousal. HSB may be a maladaptive coping mechanism to regulate emotional states. 

  • Motivation: Young people at risk of abusive behaviour may display a need to reduce negative feelings, e.g. fear, anger, loneliness, anxiety, guilt. They may exhibit a need for power and control. Other motivations could include a need to raise low self-esteem, achieve sexual gratification, or a compulsive re-enactment of their own abuse.

Lambeth Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) Forum​  


Run by: the Lambeth Harmful Sexual Behaviour Service

When: The forum takes place on the first Thursday of each month

Who for: Social Workers, YOS officers, CAMHS practitioners and education staff who work with young people in Lambeth

Purpose: The forum is well established and hosted by a friendly, specialist and experienced multi-agency team. Professionals discuss their work supporting a young person presenting with inappropriate or harmful sexual behaviours to inform their assessment, formulation, safety planning and interventions with young people and their families. 

If you are currently working with a case and would like support please complete the consultation request form and email it to LambethCAMHSYOSTeam@slam.nhs.uk. Where possible please include a genogram as this really helps with the formulation and advice we can offer you. The forum is also the gateway to an HSB Service Assessment.

Support and Resources

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In an emergency

If someone is at immediate risk of significant harm, please call 999. Do not delay.

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Specialist Local Support

For guidance, support or to request a consultation to support your work with a young person experiencing or displaying HSB, please contact the AIM Service.

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HSB Guide & Resources

A guide to support professionals to protect young people from harmful sexual behaviour

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NICE Guidelines

Guidance on intervening early and preventing an escalation in harmful sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people. 

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Make a referral for support

Contact Lambeth's Integrated Referral Hub on 020 7926 5555 and follow up with a completed Multi-agency Referral Form.

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Early Intervention Service

The Gaia Centre offers a range of services to those experiencing any form of gender-based violence in Lambeth. 


Projects with young people

 Tender run creative violence prevention workshops in schools, enabling young people to recognise and avoid abuse and violence.

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Pan-London Exploitation Protocol

This police-led, multiagency document sets out the operating protocol for safeguarding children from exploitation. 

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Guidance for Lambeth Schools

Developed by Lambeth Education & Health professionals, this guide supports schools to manage HSB

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Dedicated helpline: "Everyone's Invited"

Advice and support for children & adults; regarding their own experiences of abuse, or concern they have for others.

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Traffic Light Tool

A tool from Brook to support professionals to identify and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours.

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Free Resources

Join the Contextual Safeguarding Network for free to access resources, tutorials, videos and briefings - including on HSB.