Defining Student Sexual Offending

Student sexual offending refers to sexual behaviour that is led by a student 10 years and over which may amount to a sexual offence.

A sexual offence includes rape, sexual assault, indecent acts and other unwanted sexualised touching, all of which are offences under the Crimes Act 1958.

For a detailed breakdown of these offences, see: Definitions

Additionally under Victorian Law:

  • children between 12-15 can only consent to sexual activity with a peer no more than two years their senior (therefore sexual contact led by a student with a child outside of these age parameters may amount to student sexual offending).
  • in order for a person to consent to sexual activity they have to have the capacity to understand the context and possible consequences of the act (therefore sexual contact led by a student involving a person with a cognitive impairment or affected by alcohol and other drugs may also amount to student sexual offending).

As a school staff member you must respond to any incidents, allegations and suspicions that a student is victim to student sexual offending and/or a student has committed sexual offending by following the Four Critical Actions for Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending, which includes instructions on when to act (including when to report a child in need of therapeutic treatment).

See:

It may be difficult to determine whether student sexual behaviour amounts to sexual offending. As outlined in the Four Critical Actions for Schools: Responding to Student Sexual Offending you must always seek further advice if you are unsure whether behavior, or suspected behaviour constitutes student sexual offending, and/or whether it is indicative of any underlying abuse. 

For further advice on sexual behaviour of children under 10 years and strategies to manage these behaviours, see: Sexual Behaviour in Children Under 10 Years.

Please also note that there are separate procedures for addressing sexting (the act of electronically creating, sharing, or sending sexually explicit messages or images), see: Sexting.

Sexual Behaviour in Children Under 10 Years

Most children and young people are likely to engage in some level of age-appropriate sexual behaviour as part of their development. Sexual behaviour can present itself along a broad continuum, with research suggesting that only a small number of children and young people develop problem sexual behaviour.

It is important to consider the context of any alleged sexual behaviour of students, taking into consideration their developmental age and cognitive functioning, so that an informed decision about appropriate action can be made. It is important to understand that some level of sexual behaviour does not necessarily indicate a problem.

Age-appropriate sexual behaviour can become disrupted in children and adolescents by a number of factors, including exposure to sexually explicit material or exposure to sexual activity including abuse.

Once a child is 10 years or over, some sexual behaviour can constitute a sexual offence. All suspected sexual offences must be reported to Victoria Police.

This resource has been designed to support Victorian school staff and Principals in assessing and responding to student sexual behaviour.

This advice should be used as a guide only. If you are unsure of any form of sexual behaviour or have protective concerns for a child, you must seek further professional advice by consulting with:

  • your school leadership team
  • the Student Incident and Recovery Unit on (03) 9637 2934 or (03) 9637 2487 (government schools)
  • Diocesan education office (Catholic Schools)
  • DHHS Child Protection on 131 278 and/or
  • Victoria Police.

If you suspect that a student is a victim of sexual abuse (other than student sexual offending), see: Identifying and Responding to All Forms of Child Abuse.

What is problem sexual behaviour in children under 10?

Research identifies a continuum of sexual behaviours from common sexual play through to very concerning sexual behaviour.

Concerning sexual behaviour in children under 10 years includes:

  • Frequent, repeated behaviour – for example, compulsive masturbation
  • Sexual behaviour between children who do not know each other well
  • High-frequency occurrences of sexual behaviour that interfere with normal childhood activities
  • Sexual behaviour associated with emotional distress
  • Sexual behaviour between children of different ages, size and developmental levels
  • Aggressive, forced and/or coerced interaction between children
  • Behaviour that does not stop once the child is told to stop, or occurs in secrecy
  • Behaviour that causes harm to the child or other children.

Children with sexual behaviour problems include those children less than 10 years of age demonstrating developmentally inappropriate and/or aggressive sexual behaviour. Concerning sexual behaviour is defined to also include self-focused sexual behaviour, for example frequent public masturbation, or intrusive and/or aggressive sexual behaviour towards other children that may be coercive or forceful. While the term 'sexual' is used, the child's intent or motivation for the exhibited behaviour may be unrelated to sexual gratification.

Research suggests that only a small number of children develop concerning sexual behaviour. You need to consider whether the behaviour is aberrant, whether the child should be referred for specialist assistance, and when to report an incident to the appropriate agencies. You may need to seek professional advice in the first instance.

How to respond to problem sexual behaviour

If you suspect that a student under 10 years of age has engaged in concerning sexual behaviour, the Principal (or delegate) should advise the parents/carers of the student who is engaging in the behaviour (unless there are reasonable grounds for believing that this would not be in the best interests of the child). In many instances, the parents/carers can assist school staff to ensure that the child is aware that their behaviour and conduct is not appropriate in a school environment.

In these circumstances, it is also necessary and appropriate to notify the parents/carers of the students who have been impacted by the concerning sexual behaviour and to offer them school based support, or a referral to external support services (if appropriate or necessary in the circumstances).

In the event of very concerning sexual behaviour:

Government schools

  • government schools must contact the Student Incident and Recovery Unit on (03) 9637 2934 or (03) 9637 2487 who will advise on next steps

Catholic and independent schools

Catholic and independent schools are advised to seek advice from:

  • DHHS Child Protection on 131 278 and/or
  • Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) on 000.

All Victorian Government schools must also notify the International Education Division if there is an incident involving an international student on (03) 9637 2990.

School staff can provide education and support to the student who engages in the concerning sexual behaviour to build their understanding of age-appropriate sexual behaviour.

For all students who are under 10 years of age and who engage in concerning sexual behaviour, school staff should consider:

  • consulting with wellbeing professionals (including School Support Services in government schools) to support the student  displaying concerning sexual behaviours
  • convening a Student Support Group
  • developing a Student Support Plan to determine and document support strategies for students displaying concerning sexual behaviours and strategies to maintain the safety of other school community members.

Whether the child may be the victim of child abuse and the concerning sexual behaviour may be a physical or behavioural indicator that this may be occurring. Concerning sexual behaviour in children is not a clear indicator that a child has been sexually abused, however if you form a reasonable belief that the child is being abused, and their parents/carers are unable or unwilling to protect the child from that abuse, you must report your reasonable belief to DHHS Child Protection and/or Victoria Police. See:

For any students who are impacted by the concerning sexual behaviour, school staff should

  • develop a Student Support Plan
  • offer school based support or refer the student to appropriate external support services
  • Government schools should contact their Regional Koorie Education Coordinators to provide culturally appropriate support in instances where the child (or impacted children) is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander).

There are many activities that schools can undertake to positively influence appropriate child and adolescent sexual behaviour, including appropriate sex education sessions, personal safety lessons and parent information sessions.

Schools should document their actions using the Reporting Template. This must be stored on the Student file.To download the template, see: