Harmful sexual behaviour is harmful both to the child it is inflicted on and the child displaying it, and requires immediate attention and reaction from adults.
When children and young people display sexual behaviour capable of hurting others or themselves, the adults have a duty to react and provide help and protection. Certain children and young people are more vulnerable to developing – or falling victim to – this unacceptable behaviour. Examples are children with different handicaps, or who have been victims of violence, assault or negligence, children from low socio-economic backgrounds or with stunted development or socialisation.
An early effort is imperative to prevent injury and provide help to vulnerable children struggling with problematic and harmful sexual behaviour. Such complex situations require a coordinated effort across professional groups. A well-established interagency relationship – with clear goals and defined roles – increases the chance of children getting the professional and social assistance they need – when they need it.
It is very important to care for both parties involved to prevent later struggles.
How to care for the victim
A child exposed to harmful sexual behaviour needs help to regain their feeling of safety. Tell the child you are there for them to comfort them. Listen to and let the child navigate the conversation. Show the child you believe what they are saying, and that they made the right choice in telling you. Write down what the child tells you, as it may help following up on them later. Be aware that your role is not to be an investigator, but rather someone the child can trust and confide in. Ask open questions and let the child speak. Believe and support the child, and report to the Child Welfare Service or the Police.
Consider referral to BUP or a different aid agency. Also be aware that children and young people who have been exposed to violence or assault is a diverse group with diverse needs; treatment is different for every individual.
How to care for the inflicting party
Children and young people who have shown a tendency toward harmful sexual behaviour are still children, and not rapists or monsters. They often have a complicated and vulnerable past, and a need to be cared for, just like the victims. They need stable adults who are interested in looking into what might have caused such behaviour, and who make it clear they want to help the child. The child’s age and functioning determine how to address these issues.
How to care for parents and caregivers
It is often hard for parents to deal with sexual offences between children. Big, emotional reactions can signal the need for support and counseling services. See the family protective services in your county for support in how to best handle the situation for both the child and the family.
When children experience and/or inflict harmful sexual behaviour on someone, it is important to not have only one authority in charge of the situation. Relevant authorities to involve can be the local school, the Child Welfare Service, mental health services (BUP), Police, Children’s Advocacy Center (Statens barnehus), and Bufetat. In the event of a child or young person committing harmful sexual acts, a Consultation involving multiple authorities should be held to get all parties on the same page in what will happen next. Parents can join depending on if they are in a state of crisis. The goal is to come up with a plan dividing tasks and responsibilities, and create safety measures to prevent repeat offences – without being excluding or stigmatizing.
Safety measures are measures necessary to prevent repeated harmful behaviour, and which create a feeling of safety for the parties involved. The safety plan should cover areas with risk of repeated behaviour, and contain comprehensive steps to ensure a safe environment for everyone. The measures should be tailored to the individual child depending on age, the severity of their actions, and their current living conditions. The degree of supervision should continually be assessed.
Assessment and risk assessment: It can, in many cases, be necessary to refer the child to mental health services (BUP). If it is decided that the child needs these services, BUP will conduct a thorough assessment of the child, including mental disorders and somatic health. Mental abilities and behaviour, in this case sexualized behaviour, are usually included as well. It is recommended that BUP, in cooperation with other authorities, make a risk assessment of future harmful sexual behaviour. Aim3 and PROFESOR are recommended tools.
Treatment: BUP’s prioritization guide asserts that behavioural issues give the right to health care. In other words, BUP has a responsibility to offer treatment to children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour. We recommend treatment specifically tailored towards the individual. This will, for many, also result in parallel treatment of another disorder, i.e. post-traumatic stress or ADHD. Many children and young people who violate others, have themselves experienced abuse, for instance neglect or sexual assault. Others again may have cognitive issues resulting in sexualized behaviour. Aim has a treatment manual – translated to Norwegian – which BUP employees can be trained in.
Children need to be seen, heard, taken seriously, and have their own resourcefulness highlighted. Feeling accomplished in everyday life can prevent and reduce mental and behavioural issues. Children with higher self-esteem have been shown to easier build relations with their peers. Adults must therefore facilitate and encourage togetherness and cooperation with the goal of increasing self-esteem, social competence, and hope for the future.
If a pupil has displayed harmful sexual behaviour it may be necessary to make a safety plan with the school. This is a tool used for preventing incidents involving harmful sexual behaviour.
When designing the safety plan, the employees with the highest responsibility for, and in the most contact with, the pupil should hold a meeting. If the pupil is transferring to a new school, employees from both schools should partake. Involving a professional with experience in sexualized behaviour is also a good idea.
At this meeting you should together reflect on the different sections of the safety plan, share experiences and discuss what measures are needed to secure a safe environment for the other students at school. The measures should be adjusted to fit the pupil based on age, severity of the sexualized behaviour, and the condition of the school. Try to be concrete and specific when coming up with the measures.
Following this you will need a plan for implementing the measures; how and when, and who is responsible for doing it. An evaluation of the safety plan is also necessary, but the timing depends on the type of sexualized behaviour you are dealing with, as well as a stable environment. After 3 months you should seek advice from professionals on whether a new evaluation is needed.
It is imperative to emphasize the positive aspects of the safety plan when presenting it to the pupil in question, for example by saying “Your teacher and I have discussed how we can best care for both you and the other pupils at this school”. To be clear, avoid labeling the student a “sexual predator” or anything in that vein. The pupil is allowed to reflect on what has happened and recount their own experiences to a willing listener.
You have a duty and a responsibility when dealing with harmful sexual behaviour.
Consider referral to other authorities