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Addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviours Among Children and Young People: Definitional and Regulatory Tensions

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Child Sexual Abuse in Black and Minoritised Communities

Abstract

In recent years, concerns associated with harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) among children and young people have featured prominently in child protection and safeguarding policy and debates. Drawing on two empirical projects conducted by the authors, this chapter critically examines a range of definitional and regulatory tensions associated with HSB among young people. We argue that antiquated legal and policy frameworks fail to account for the diverse range of peer-based HSBs with which young people are presenting. In particular, we note how prevailing socio-cultural pressures are resulting in blurred boundaries around ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ sexual behaviour and ‘harmful’ and potentially ‘abusive’ sexual behaviour among peers. Therefore, this chapter (a) explores how emerging forms of peer-based HSB, including digital forms of HSB, are challenging how child sexual abuse (CSA) is defined and classified within social, legal and professional discourses, and (b) reveals some of the challenges and practical implications associated with investigating and managing HSB among young people, including the risk of overcriminalisation within certain contexts (for example, sexting).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See for example, the 2012 sexual assault case in Steubenville, Ohio, USA, where the 16-year-old victim only learned of the sexual assault committed against her by her peers while she was unconscious due to photographs and videos of the assault being posted on social media.

  2. 2.

    See https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/girls-making-change/girls-attitudes-survey/?301=yes. Accessed 28 January 2022.

  3. 3.

    See S. Weale, (2018, 18 September) Rise in young people seeking help over peer-on-peer abuse in UK. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/18/childline-rise-young-people-seeking-help-peer-on-peer-abuse-uk Accessed 15 October 2021.

  4. 4.

    Traditionally, a ‘history of concerns’ associated with child sexual abuse included intra-familial abuse, institutional abuse and grooming, for example (see McAlinden 2012).

  5. 5.

    s 45 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 amended the definition of ‘child’ from those aged under 16 years to those aged under 18 years.

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Agnew, E., McAlinden, AM. (2022). Addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviours Among Children and Young People: Definitional and Regulatory Tensions. In: Gill, A.K., Begum, H. (eds) Child Sexual Abuse in Black and Minoritised Communities. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06337-4_8

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