Why might a young person behave like this?
Negative ideas about sex and gender can invite people to act in sexually harmful ways. These ideas are communicated in things like porn, and sometimes in peer groups and families. Young people may be more vulnerable to these ideas because of their life stage. During adolescence (from the onset of puberty until about the age of 19), people are more concerned with their image and reputation in the eyes of their peers, and will go further to fit in with what they believe their peers think than at other times in their life.
Many other things can also contribute to harmful sexual behaviour, including:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Witnessing or being the target of aggression (sexual, physical or psychological) at home, at school, or in the community
- Limited skills or opportunities for consensual peer sexual activity
- A lack of knowledge about sexual boundaries
- Lots of negative feeling with few skills or options for dealing with it
- The behaviour being met with positive and/or little or no negative consequences (for example, adults turn a blind eye and peers offer respect)
Naturally every situation is different, and in most a few things in combination are playing a part.
If we understand the factors playing into a young person’s behaviour, we can more effectively tackle them, and in doing so, help the young person to stop.
This should be done whilst recognising the part that the young person’s personal responsibility played. Remember, there are situations in which a young person has no responsibility for their sexual behaviour because they are being controlled, coerced or intimidated – the thinking and advice here is not relevant to these circumstances.