“The Government must work with schools, police and voluntary organisations to tackle it.”
British Asian MP Nusrat Ghani warns children who engage in harmful sexual behaviour should not be treated as ‘mini sex offenders’.
She leads efforts with charity Barnardo’s in a national inquiry that looks into the level of support provided for these children.
Titled ‘Now I Know It Was Wrong’, the report defines harmful sexual behaviour as ‘when children and young people (under 18) engage in sexual discussions or activities that are inappropriate for their age or stage of development.
It adds that ‘these activities can range from using sexually explicit words and phrases to full penetrative sex with other children or adults’.
It points out these children, if conveniently labelled as ‘mini sex offenders’, may struggle to integrate into the normal way of life.
Because many of them are victims of sexual abuse themselves, failing to see them as children ‘first and foremost’ will lead us to ignore the fact that ‘children and young people are more likely than adults to achieve successful rehabilitation’.
What’s worse, without formal advice and a strong network of support, they may continue to display inappropriate or even illegal sexual acts towards themselves and others.
The inquiry also identifies that young people nowadays are particular susceptible to fostering misconception about appropriate sexual behaviour, due to easy access to the Internet and ‘pervasive sexualised content’.
As a result, this could increase the chances of them relapsing into engaging in harmful sexual behaviour and becoming an offender again.
Calling for the public to refrain from ‘unnecessarily criminalising or stigmatising’ these young people, Ghani says:
“The key to this little understood problem is prevention and protection, so the Government must work with schools, local authorities, police and voluntary organisations to tackle it.
“In this smartphone age, parents must also play a vigilant role in protecting their children from harmful sexual behaviour and from harmful sexual images that cause damage they are too young to understand.”
The inquiry recommends closer collaboration between the government and organisations working in this space to produce and implement a national strategy that will prevent and respond to such behaviour among children.
It also presses parents to play a more proactive role in ‘protecting children from harmful content, and helping them to become critical consumers of what they are exposed to’.
A Department for Education spokesperson stresses the importance of sex education at schools:
“High quality sex and relationship education is a vital part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain, helping them make informed choices and stay safe.
“There are a range of resources available for teachers to help teach the importance of building healthy relationships, including new guidance on consent from the PSHE Association.
“Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools, and we expect academies to teach it as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.”
The panel aims to work with ministers, charities and experts to set up a working group to tackle harmful sexual behaviour by July 2017.