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Risk factors for developing sexually reactive behaviours

Understanding sexually reactive behaviours (SRB) is fundamental to practice in Child Safety. Many children with SRB have been exposed to repeated childhood trauma. There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to children exhibiting sexually reactive behaviours including:

  • experiencing domestic and family violence
  • chronic, long term neglect
  • witnessing sexual activity that is inappropriate
  • being a victim of sexual abuse.

Further reading

Refer to 'Conceptualising the impact of sexual abuse –The wall’ in The importance of understanding and responding to child sexual abuse to further understand how the above experiences contribute to a child exhibiting sexually reactive behaviours.

While a traumatic childhood is a significant risk factor for developing SRB, most children who experience trauma through abuse, neglect, domestic violence or sexual abuse do not sexually abuse other children.

When working with children with SRB, use a trauma informed approach. Sometimes, just as in the general population, a child may have other underlying causes of their behaviour that require another approach (for example, disability, underlying pathology). In these circumstances, speak to a senior team leader or senior practitioner for further guidance on appropriate advice and interventions.  

Further reading

Read the New South Wales Office of the Senior Practitioner Child Sexual Abuse Literature Review (chapter seven) for more information about risk factors for developing sexually reactive behaviour.

Royal Commission Final Report, Volume 10, Children with harmful sexual behaviours (2017).

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