Technology assisted harmful sexual behaviour: a practice resource

Pat Branigan introduces new guidance for practitioners working with children who display harmful sexual behaviour online

Teenage boy on mobile phoneIn 2009, the Assessment Intervention Moving On (AIM) Project published practice guidance to help professionals work with young people who had engaged in harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) online.

i-AIM grew out of an increased professional awareness of the role new technologies were having on sexual offending behaviour.

Since then, our understanding of how technologies can facilitate sexual offending amongst adolescents has deepened.

Indeed, our understanding of the influence of the online environment on child safety has undergone a step-change.


What is the technology-assisted HSB practice resource?

Since 2016, the NSPCC and the AIM Project have been working together to explore and understand emerging issues around the use of technology among children and young people who display HSB. We call this ‘technology-assisted HSB’ (TA-HSB).

We’ve now published a resource: Technology assisted harmful sexual behaviour practice guidance. This will help practitioners formulate judgements about risks arising from an adolescent’s technology assisted HSB.

The resource will be accompanied by a training programme.

This first version of the TA-HSB practice guidance is designed to help with assessments of young men (aged 12 to 18 years) where there’s a concern regarding their engagement in technology assisted HSB.

At this stage, the guidance is not intended for children under the age of 12, or for girls and young women. It’s also unsuitable for young people with learning disabilities.

Evidence informed practice guidance

The new TA-HSB practice guidance is underpinned by the NSPCC’s review of the research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour online. It’s also informed by research exploring TA-HSB amongst children and young people from our Turn the Page service.

Our research identified that there were rarely clear distinctions between young people who engaged in technology assisted HSB (online) and those who were involved in HSB offline. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that some young people initially engaged in offline HSB had progressed into more technology assisted HSB-focused activities.

The way the online environment can facilitate HSB, and how it affects a young person’s risk of displaying HSB, is not addressed in standard risk assessment models. Therefore, the new TA-HSB practice guidance supplements existing risk assessment models. It is not a substitute for them.

We expect that, as our clinical knowledge increases, we’ll need to integrate the TA-HSB elements within the existing risk assessment tools for offline HSB.

Who can use the TA-HSB practice guidance?

The practice resource has been designed to help experienced risk assessment trained social workers, youth offending team practitioners and specialist providers:

  • know how to collect and collate relevant information regarding technology assisted HSB;
  • devise a structure to develop a case formulation - a theoretically based explanation of a child’s behaviours, which offers a hypothesis about the nature, likely causes and future development of the HSB;
  • develop safety plans.

We hope the guidance will be helpful for:

  • summarising what is known about children who display HSB online;
  • raising awareness of what practitioners need to ask about in an assessment for online HSB;
  • guiding practitioners in how they can bring information about a child’s behaviour together and make sense of what has happened;
  • enabling practitioners to consider what needs to happen to manage online risk in the future.

Book on the training on how to use the practice guidance.

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