Harmful sexual behaviour Facts and statistics

There are no official statistics that tell us how many children have harmful sexual behaviour. Estimates come from research studies. Offences reported to the police are likely to be significant under-estimations because harmful sexual behaviour is under-recognised and under-reported.

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Around a third of sexual abuse is committed by other children and young people

Explanation: Research and crime statistics suggest that anywhere from one-fifth to two-thirds of sexual abuse is committed by other children and young people. Hackett (2014) gives an overview of some of the key studies. The NSPCC uses the figure of “around a third” as a mid-way point between the lower end and the higher end of the estimates.

We hold Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours in our library.


Over 9,000 recorded child sex offences were perpetrated by children in 2016

Explanation: Barnardo's freedom of information (FOI) request to police forces in England and Wales found that the number of police recorded sexual offences against under-18 year olds, that were perpetrated by under-18 year olds, rose from 5,215 in 2013 to 9,290 in 2016. There was no response from 7 of the 43 police forces, so the true figure is likely to be higher.

The vast majority of children with harmful sexual behaviour have themselves experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Explanation: Research studies into children with harmful sexual behaviour are often quite small. However most do find that children with harmful sexual behaviour have also experienced other types of abuse, including sexual abuse.

We hold Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours in our library.

A minority of victims of child sexual exploitation are also perpetrators.

Explanation: 2,409 children were confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups during the 14-month period from August 2010 to October 2011. Of these, 155 were identified as also being perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

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Research and resources

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