Active Research

Building a knowledge frame for responding to the needs of children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour

    • Response to child sexual abuse
    • Prevention of child sexual abuse
    • Understanding child sexual abuse
Research Topic areas 
  • Drivers of child sexual abuse
  • Harmful sexual behaviours
  • Therapeutic responses
Project Duration
Start: September 2022
End: March 2024
Geographical Scope
Multi-national (including Australia)
Young adults (18-25 years)Adults (25-65 years)Older adults (>65 years)
All genders

Project Lead

Associate Professor Dominiek Coates, The National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse
Dr Joe Tucci, The Australian Childhood Foundation
Project lead email:

Project Team

Cyra Fernandes, The Australian Childhood Foundation


There is a need to develop clinical guidelines in relation to harmful sexual behaviours (HSB). HSB are sexual behaviours displayed by children and young people that fall outside what may be considered developmentally, socially and culturally expected, may cause harm to themselves or others, and occur either face to face and/or via technology. When these behaviours involve another child or young person, they may include a lack of consent, reciprocity, mutuality, and involve the use of coercion, force or a misuse of power.

This project was funded by the National Office for Child Safety (NOCS) to help address this gap.


To inform the development of a clinical framework to prevent and respond to HSB, and outline current evidence and best practice recommendations in relation to:
I. The factors that contribute to the development of HSB
II. Assessment
III. Intervention and response
IV. Early intervention and prevention
V. Workforce development


Since there is no existing theory or framework to understand and respond to HSB, this study employs an exploratory approach, informed by principles of grounded theory.
Data collection and analysis are conducted across multiple study phases and include the following datasets that will be integrated to address the research questions:
• Forty key informant interviews with Australian and international experts,
• A comprehensive mapping of the national and international service landscape, using information available from the services’ websites, and
• A comprehensive review of the literature, consisting of a two-phased approach: systematic evidence mapping, followed by a series of integrative reviews

Significance and Dissemination

This study will inform the development of a framework to prevent and respond to HSB, and recommendations for services for children, young people, and their families, that includes:
• An understanding of the diversity of children and young people who engage in HSB
• A conceptual framework for understanding the development of HSB
• A framework to inform holistic and developmentally appropriate assessment
• A framework to guide intervention and response, including best practice principles and Holistic and multisystemic approaches
• Recommendations for prevention
• Recommendations for workforce development
• Insights to guide practice for specific populations, specifically children and young people with an intellectual and developmental disability and First Nations young peoples.

Further Details

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Funding body:
The National Office for Child Safety
Monitoring and governance:
This project is guided by oversight of the National Centre for Action on Child Sexual abuse and the Australian Childhood Foundation
Australian Human Research Ethics Committee:
This project is subject to ethical oversight by the University of Technology Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee
Response to child sexual abuse

Evaluation of the Multi-Agency Investigation & Support Team

James Herbert
Centre for Social Impact - University of South Australia
David O'Shaughnessy
University of Western Australia
Understanding child sexual abuse

Conceptualising and Estimating the Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation (Phase One of Australian Study into Economic Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation)

Jonah Rimer
The University of Queensland
Response to child sexual abuse

Effect of multi-agency deliberation on perceptions of risk in responses to child abuse and neglect

James Herbert
Centre for Social Impact - UWA

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