Reports about sexualised behaviours
Many tamariki engage in normal explorative behaviour that does not raise concerns, but sometimes reports of concern about sexualised behaviour between tamariki or rangatahi will need to be followed up.
The treatment sector in New Zealand widely uses:
- concerning sexual behaviour when referring to mokopuna aged 10 and under
- harmful sexual behaviour when referring to tamariki and rangatahi aged over 10 years.
In many circumstances a child and family assessment will be the more appropriate pathway to meet the needs of the tamariki or rangatahi and their whānau or family. However there are situations where sexualised behaviour between tamariki may need to follow the investigation process.
When determining the most appropriate pathway consider:
- the age of the tamariki or rangatahi and nature of the behaviour — is the behaviour considered normal or usual for a tamariki of that age, or does it indicate that they may have been exposed to behaviour or knowledge from beyond their developmental age and stage?
- differences in equality, such as age differentiation and/or developmental differences
- has one tamaiti made to comply with the behaviour through fear, coercion or use of force and power
- if there has been contact with a known sexual abuser
- if there is a family/sibling pattern of concerning sexual behaviours.
If there is an adult involved, the investigation pathway must always be chosen and the child protection protocol followed.
Situations involving rangatahi may also need to follow the investigation pathway. With tamariki, consider the information you have and use your professional judgement to decide the next steps.
If in doubt, consult with Police about the concerns.
Responding to underage sexual relationships
The law states that a sexual relationship with a child or young person under 16 is a criminal act (section 134 of the Crimes Act). In these cases, the discretion about whether to charge remains with the Police.
It may be appropriate to refer the matter to Police in the first instance.
We will need to consider if there are also care and protection concerns. Consider:
- Is there predatory, exploitative or coercive behaviours?
- Are there vulnerabilities due to disability, intoxication, or other factors?
- What is the age difference?
- Are there power and control dynamics in the relationship?
- Are there multiple people involved?
If in doubt, consult with your supervisor.