Underage sexual activity

Introduction

The Bichard Report was commissioned following the Soham murders and covered many issues relating primarily to police actions.

Its findings and recommendations however also affect Health, Social Work, Education and Voluntary agencies.

One of the findings relate to a concern that agencies were not taking seriously the issue of sexual intercourse involving under-age young people, and that abusive or predatory behaviour may be overlooked, thus exposing young people to risk.

The Bichard Report emphasised that it is critical that there is good communication between the agencies and that decisions taken are based on clearly understood criteria.

 

The law

Legislation is quite specific regarding unlawful sexual intercourse. Where young people under age 13 have sexual intercourse, common law establishes that the person who has had sexual intercourse with them has committed an offence of rape. Similarly where young people aged between 13 and 16 are concerned the response of professionals should also reflect the seriousness of the matter.

The Bichard Report recommends that: “Police are notified as soon as possible when a criminal offence has been committed or is suspected of having been committed against a child, unless there are exceptional circumstances for not doing so”.

Professionals should work within the law and use legal provision to inform and determine their decisions and interventions, but the paramount consideration at all times should be the welfare of the child. It would be hoped that this could be applied by workers in all agencies in a manner that is consistent with the provisions made in law.

 

Recommended practice

In practice there has been a clear distinction between dealing with a young person aged 13-16 who is technically only a victim having been involved in a consensual relationship, and dealing with one who is the victim of abuse.

Where the young personal is under 13 a Child Protection referral must be made.

Seeking consent to share the information is a requirement of good practice but if consent is withheld there is still a duty to share this information, and the young person needs to be aware at the start of any consultation that this could happen.

Staff should routinely record the names of young people who they suspect or know are sexually active.

The Bichard enquiry recommends that the decision on whether to refer young people aged 13 to 16 should consider the following:

      • The age difference (if any) between the young person and the other individual concerned.
      • The nature of the relationship between the young person and the other individual concerned.
      • Whether the behaviour could be considered age/developmentally appropriate.
      • How ”consent” is actually understood by the young person.
      • How often and for how long the activity has been happening.
      • Whether there is any element of aggression involved.
      • Whether there is any element of coercion involved (coercion includes implying that there will be a negative penalty or outcome for the young person if they do not accede to sexual activity).
      • Whether there is any element of intimidation involved.
      • Whether there is any element of enticement involved.
      • Whether the other individual is known to have other sexual partners particularly those that may also be ”under age”.
      • Whether the sexual partner is known to any agencies (which presupposes that checks will be made with the police)
      • Whether substances may have been used as a ’disinhibitor’.
      • Whether the young person denies, accepts or minimises any cause for concern.
      • Whether any aspect of the relationship might be consistent with ’grooming’.

 

Process of referral

Where a professional is being given information that a young person is sexually active, he/she must satisfy him/herself about the risks to the young person.

If there are no concerns then the professional should still record the name, date of birth and reason for not referring.

If there are concerns or if doubts exist, a referral should be made to the Initial Response Team, if the child/young person is not an allocated case to the relevant Locality Social Work Team.

A joint decision will be made regarding the most appropriate action, with a possibility of four options:

      • No further action.
      • Further information required.
      • Referral to police.
      • Proceed to initial referral discussion.