Addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviours by Children and Adolescents: Definitional and Regulatory Tensions

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Concerns about harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) among children and young people have featured prominently within recent child protection and safeguarding policy and debates. Drawing on three empirical projects conducted by the authors, this chapter critically examines some of the key debates and challenges concerning HSB, in particular a range of definitional and regulatory tensions associated with HSB within the United Kingdom (UK), which will have resonance elsewhere. We argue that antiquated legal and policy frameworks fail to account for the diverse range of harmful sexual behaviours young people are presenting with. We note how prevailing socio-cultural pressures are resulting in blurred boundaries around ‘normal’, ‘healthy’, ‘harmful’ and ‘abusive’ sexual behaviours. This chapter will, therefore, (a) explore how emerging forms of peer-based HSB, including digital forms of HSB, are challenging how ‘child sexual abuse’ is defined and classified within cultural, legal and professional discourses; and (b) note some of the key challenges and practical implications associated with investigating and managing HSB, including the risk of over criminalisation within certain contexts e.g. ‘sexting’. Given the complexity and range of harmful sexual behaviours, significant challenges facing professionals in identifying young people as either the ‘victim’ or the ‘perpetrator’ will be considered. The chapter will conclude by briefly exploring the need for broader educative responses aimed at prevention which better address the nuances and complexities of peer-based HSB.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChild Sexual Abuse in Black and Minoritised Communities: Improving Legal, Policy and Practical Responses
EditorsAlisha K. Gill, Hannah Begum
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)9783031063367
Publication statusAccepted - 01 Feb 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviours by Children and Adolescents: Definitional and Regulatory Tensions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this