What is 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).
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
Lambeth AIM (Assessment, Intervention and Moving On) service offers social workers, YOT officers, CAMHS practitioners and education staff who work with young people in Lambeth a monthly multi-agency forum in which they can discuss any young person who is presenting with inappropriate or harmful sexual behaviours to inform their assessment, formulation, safety planning and interventions with young people and their families. This discussion is also used as a platform to discuss whether a specialist AIM assessment and intervention is needed by the AIM service.
To book onto the HSB Forum, or for a copy of the Lambeth Good Practice Guidance please contact
Dr Jeyda Ibrahim (Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist, and AIM Lead).
Support and Resources
If a child is at immediate risk of significant harm, please dial 999.
Guidelines to ensure support so that Harmful Sexual Behaviours don’t escalate.
Please call or email and follow up with a Multi-agency Referral Form.
A tool to support professionals to identify and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours.
For guidance, support, or to request a HSB Consultation,
please contact Dr Jeyda Ibrahim (Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist, and AIM Lead).