Sharing our learning about harmful sexual behaviour

We can help children understand and overcome their behaviour by giving them effective support, says Peter Wanless

Boy with practitioner

Children and young people who develop harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) harm themselves and others.

Harmful sexual behaviour includes:

  • using sexually explicit words and phrases
  • inappropriate touching
  • using sexual violence or threats
  • full penetrative sex with other children or adults.

Research suggests around a third of child sexual abuse is committed by other children and young people.

But by giving these young people the right support at the right time, we can help them manage and move away from their behaviour towards a positive, safe future.

How we're helping young people displaying HSB

Our Turn the Page service helps young people understand and manage their own harmful sexual behaviour.

For teenage boys displaying HSB, we use the Change for Good manual to look at social and emotional challenges these young men are experiencing, help them change their behaviour and improve their wellbeing.

And for professionals working with females, children and young people under 12 and those with learning difficulties, we offer Extended Referral Criteria guidance. This helps professionals respond appropriately to the child's individual needs.

We can work with young people to help them overcome HSB

We've evaluated both parts of the Turn the Page service.

Change for Good manual

Our Turn the Page evaluation focussed on the application of the Change for Good manual and what works to help young people progress on the programme. It showed:

  • participants saw improvements to their self-esteem, emotional loneliness as well as their sense of mastery over their life.
  • the programme helped build an effective relationship between young people and practitioners, which promoted constructive discussions about HSB.

The evaluation also identified areas for improvement to the Change for Good manual. We'll be developing acompanying practice guidance to address these.

Extended Referral Criteria

Our Extended Referral Criteria evaluation focussed on children under 12, children with a learning difficulty and girls participating in the programme. It highlighted the importance of taking a holistic approach to assessment and intervention.

It showed that intervention may need to be tailored specifically to working with younger children and children or young people with a learning difficulty. 

Watch our In Conversation videos

Clinical Psychologist Oliver Eastman and Professor Richard Wortley talk to us about harmful sexual behaviour and the situational factors that can help prevent child sexual abuse.

Preventing child sexual abuse: reducing the risk

Harmful sexual behaviour and the role of technology


  1. McCrory, E. and Walker-Rhymes, P. (ill.) (2011) A treatment manual for adolescents displaying harmful sexual behaviour: change for good. London: Jessica Kingsley.