Description of a UK study of onset of sexually harmful behaviour before the age of ten years in boys referred to a specialist assessment and treatment service


  • Colin Hawkes

    Corresponding author
    1. NSPCC/Islington PCT, National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service, London, UK
    • Children's Services Manager, NCATS, Alexandra Ciardi House, 7-8 Greenland Place, London NW1 0AP, UK
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During the past 30 years, research into the phenomenon of sexually harmful behaviour has shifted from an adult focus to include adolescent and, more recently, childhood onset. This paper reports a study of onset, before the age of ten years, of sexually harmful behaviour in a group of 27 boys.

Ethical consent was obtained to extract information from the case files of a national specialist service. A description of characteristics was built up from variable frequencies and quantitative and qualitative analysis produced findings that indicated a family history of cross-generational harm to children and a parental experience of unresolved harm in childhood generated inconsistent and insensitive parenting that was linked to high levels of maltreatment and insecurity of attachment in the research group. Sexualised reactions by the research subjects to a very high level of sexual victimisation were not responded to in a timely or appropriate way by parents, other caregivers or professionals so that sexually harmful behaviour continued without intervention for a significant period.

The study proposes a three-stage model that identifies predisposing vulnerabilities, sexual victimisation as a trigger event and the subsequent development of sexually harmful behaviour as a protecting adaptation that assumes an aroused and organised aspect through repetition. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.