Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) can be defined as sexual behaviours by children and young people, under the age of 18, that are developmentally inappropriate, harmful towards self and others, or abusive towards another child, young person or adult (Hackett et al, 2014; 2019). Whilst it is difficult to know the scale of the issue it is estimated that around one-third of sexual abuse of a child in the UK is committed by another child under 18. More specifically, in Scotland the number of cases of sexual offences against a child by a child (under 18), between 2012-2016, rose by 34% with 96% perpetrated by males.
Gaps in research generate a strong impetus to challenge the predominant focus on individualising HSB, thus locating the issue in boys and young men, and the dominant tendency towards individual factors fails to acknowledge young people’s ‘sociological worlds’ and their age-related dependence on a range of social contexts. Research falls silent on the voices of these young people which could speak to beliefs around deserving/undeserving and the polarising dichotomy of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ which often intersects their lives.
Looking beyond individual offender characteristics this study aims to understand how the interplay within and between social contexts enhances risk or protective processes in the lives of young men. Utilising principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR) with young men who have displayed HSB, previously denied a voice in social research, as ‘experts through experience’ the study will generate unique knowledge, insight and understanding from lived experience.
The principal collaborative partner is the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit based in Police Scotland in partnership with Scottish Government. Pivotally in January 2020 the Scottish Government called for the nation to pioneer a public health response to HSB, inspired by success in reducing violent crime among children and young people, spearheaded by the SVRU.
It is a privilege to be supervised by Professor Simon Hackett and Dr Josie Phillips who bring rich and vast experience in research and practice in the field of child abuse and neglect including HSB. I hope that my background, including 20 years of Social Work practice, will help me to meaningfully engage with marginalised young people as research partners on this sensitive topic to better understand how HSB is shaped sociologically and contextually and develop contextual safeguarding from a conceptualisation of ‘contextual risk and protection’.