Managing Instances of Harmful Sexual Behaviours and Creating a Culture of Prevention

Managing Instances of Harmful Sexual Behaviours and Creating a Culture of Prevention

Posted  4th May 2022

This blog is based on Judicium’s Safeguarding ‘Sofa Session’ from the 4th of May, with our resident experts Hannah Glossop and James Simoniti. This session focused on what is Harmful Sexual Behaviour, dealing with HSB in schools and how schools can create a culture of prevention.

What is Harmful Sexual Behaviour?

The terminology of “harmful sexual behaviours” is now commonly used and covers:
  • Sexual harassment: “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual comments, online sexual harassment and physical behaviour such as brushing against someone”
  • Sexual violence: “refers to offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including rape and sexual assault”
Harmful sexual behaviour does not have to involve physical touching! It can include sexualised online comments and any developmentally unusual or socially unacceptable behaviour.

    Dealing with Harmful Sexual Behaviours

    In practice, how can we tackle HSB within schools?

    It is good to think about handling HSB in two ways: How to Prevent and how to Respond.


     Preventing harmful sexual behaviours in school comes down to the culture your school fosters.
    1. The staff at your school should embody this culture.
      • Work with the assumption ‘HSB could and probably does happen here.’
      • They should not excuse behaviour as ‘boys being boys’ or ‘kids growing up’ and should treat HSB as a safeguarding issue. Report it to the DSL and understand the consequences that it has on all involved parties.
      • These attitudes should be explored during recruitment when applicants are questioned about safeguarding.
    1. Your school culture shouldn’t tolerate any inappropriate abusive behaviour – even relatively innocuous incidents.
      • Although the behaviour may not be followed up with formal sanctions, it should always be addressed with the pupils involved.
      • Making HSB unacceptable to pupils early on sets clear boundaries and deters further escalation of this behaviour.
    1. The culture of the school should be responsive to the voice of the pupils.
      • Hold focus groups or survey pupils around HSB and what it looks like within your school setting.
      • Map your school setting and ask pupils where they feel safe and most at risk.
      • Take action to address these ‘weak spots’ and reassure pupils their concerns are being addressed.
    1. The school culture should empower pupils to speak up and report HSB.
      • Pupils should know that they will be listened to and you should constantly work towards breaking down barriers to reporting.
      • Pupils shouldn’t feel they are creating a problem by speaking up.
    1. A big part of the preventative approach is also the education of the pupils at the school.
      • Think carefully about RSE and your wider PSHE curriculum.
      • By the end of Primary level, pupils should understand the concept of ‘permission’ and personal boundaries.
      • By the end of Secondary, this should have developed into a good knowledge of ‘consent’.

    Strong prevention strategies will reduce the likelihood of HSB taking place at your school.

    But how should schools respond to HSB when it is reported?


    Immediate Actions

    1. All staff at your school should know how to deal with a disclosure from a pupil.
      • The staff member should actively listen, note down what is reported and inform the DSL or a Deputy as soon as possible.
      • Be aware of added barriers with HSB such as pupils’ fears or worry over ‘snitching’ and gossiping so treat the matter with sensitivity.
    1. KCSIE is clear that sexual violence should be reported to the police as a ‘starting point’, regardless of age.
      • NB: KCSIE says ‘should’ report to the police, rather than ‘must.’ This does give schools discretion to use alternative remedies when appropriate.
    1. HSB that is not sexual violence can still be referred to the Police or Children’s Social Care if required, but you may be able to handle the incident within your school.
      1. Your response will depend on many factors, such as the ages of the pupils, any power imbalances between the parties and whether it is part of a sustained pattern of abuse.

    2. If the police are involved, do not let this stop you from taking immediate action to safeguard pupils!

    Follow-Up Actions

    1. Ensure support is put in place for both parties (as per KCSIE - victim and perpetrator).
      • For the victim, there are many support agencies available. Your Local Authority may have agreements with certain agencies that they will signpost you to.
      • Know your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) – these are staffed by professionals trained in dealing with trauma and are a great resource.
      • You may also be able to offer support internally at school in some instances, through resources such as the school counsellor or one-to-one sessions. NB: The voice of the victim is vital here. They must consent to these arrangements, and they should not be required to engage with them if they do not want to do so.
      • Don’t forget support needs to be put in place for the perpetrator as they may be victims of HSB themselves. Speak to your LA and there are also national charities, such as the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, that specifically support perpetrators and provide schools with suitable resources to work with pupils.
    1. Risk assessments may also be needed following reports of HSB.
      • KCSIE states that these are compulsory following reports of sexual violence. NB: It is not compulsory to conduct risk assessments following reports of sexual harassment, but you can conduct an RA if necessary.
      • They should focus on the victim and perpetrator but should also consider the risks to other pupils and staff.
      • Where referrals have been made, other professionals’ input should be sought.
    1. When a referral is made to the police, their investigation should take priority.
      • Police investigations into sexual offences are lengthy and you should expect these to take a significant period.
      • NB: A police investigation must not stop you safeguarding the victim and other children.
      • If the police do not charge the perpetrator, liaise with them around how risks can be mitigated within the school. If they have concerns, they should share these with you.
    1. The police will not investigate every reported instance of HSB.
      • Often a criminal sanction is inappropriate, leaving the police with a limited role.
      • When the police do not investigate, it will fall to you to investigate within the school. The outcome of this investigation will inform what next steps you take.
    1. As part of your investigation, consider what the school can do to minimise the chances of a recurrence.
      • For example, does it reveal a training need? Has it uncovered significant gaps in CCTV coverage? Did pupils involved understand that the HSB was abuse? If not, consider whether the messages from your RSE lessons are clear to pupils.
    1. Dealing with a report of HSB can be traumatic.
      • Consider having a debrief with appropriate colleagues, talking through what went well and what was difficult.
      • Consider the support mechanisms you can draw on. Your school may offer certain employee assistance programmes or counselling. Never be afraid to utilise these!

    Key takeaways on how schools can create a culture of prevention 

    1. Assess where your school is with harmful sexual behaviours currently, including:
      • Are your policies and procedures up to date?
      • Have your staff had in depth training on these?
      • Are your pupils reporting instances of HSB?
      • Does your curriculum need updating, particularly around RSHE and ensuring all pupils are supported to report concerns about sexual behaviour freely, and feel confident this is the case?
      • Do your staff need any training in how to deliver RSHE?
      • Do you keep comprehensive records of sexual harassment and violence? If you use an electronic reporting system, are these categories set-up? Do you know any patterns e.g., year groups or locations where HSB is more prevalent? 
      • Consider using this time to collect pupil voice. What do your pupils think about your school’s response to sexual abuse and violence?
    1. Use any instances of HSB as a learning point
      • Review the response.
      • What went well and what could be improved next time?
    1. Review sanctions in place.
      • Are these effective?


    Helpful Links

    DfE 2017 Report -  ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’ in December 2017.

    Panorama - 'When Kids Abuse Kids' BBC Documentary -

    Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool -

    DfE Online Safety -

    You can follow the Safeguarding team on Twitter: @JudiciumSG

    The Safeguarding Service is also providing CPD accredited open training courses for DSLs, ALL staff and Governors, including Level 3 equivalent DSL training. Upcoming dates and links to book your place are listed below:

    Tuesday 14th June- Advanced Safeguarding Training Refresher

    Wednesday 6th July- Advanced Safeguarding Training (for new DSLs)

    If you’d like to review Judicium’s forthcoming sofa sessions please click here