Guidance for all Victorian school staff on what action to take if you suspect, or are witness to student sexual offending.
Report student sexual offending
If you witness an incident, receive a disclosure or form a suspicion that a student is a victim of a student sexual offending and/or a student has engaged in student sexual offending you must act immediately by following the Four Critical actions. For more information. See:
Principals have primary responsibility for managing the school response to incidents, disclosures or suspicions of student sexual offending. For an outline of the Principal's responsibilities, see:
Your reporting obligations
As a school staff members you play a critical role in protecting children and must meet a range of legal obligations to identify, respond and report child abuse. This includes any incidents, allegations and suspicions that a student is victim to student sexual offending and/or a student has committed sexual offending. For more information, see:
Document your actions
You must keep clear and comprehensive notes relating to incidents, disclosures and allegations of child abuse. It is strongly recommended that you use the following template:
Identify 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.
Under the Crimes Act 1958, a sexual offence includes:
'Sexual assault' refers to circumstances where:
- a person (A) intentionally touches another person (B)
- the touching is sexual
- B does not consent to the touching
- A does not reasonably believe that B consents to the touching.
Rape is the intentional sexual penetration by the penis, finger or an object, of the vagina, mouth or anus of another person without that person’s consent, and refers to circumstances where:
- a person (A) intentionally sexually penetrates another person (B)
- B does not consent to the penetration
- A does not reasonably believe that B consents to the penetration.
A person must not willfully commit, or willfully take part in an indecent act with a child under the age of 16, or in their presence.
In the context of student sexual offending this relates to indecent acts where the student engaging in the offence:
- is more than 2 years older than the child and
- cannot demonstrate a belief on reasonable grounds that the child was aged 16 or older.
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.
Problem sexual behaviour in children under 10
Research identifies a continuum of sexual behaviours from common sexual play through to very concerning sexual behaviour.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Respond to problem sexual behaviour in children under 10
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. For more information, see:
Communicate with parents
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
- 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).
Respond to very concerning behaviour
In the event of very concerning sexual behaviour:
- 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 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.
Problem sexual behaviour in children over 10
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. See:
Support for students impacted by concerning student sexual behaviour
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.
For more information on support for students, see:
Action 4: Providing ongoing support
Download the full guide
Identifying and responding to student sexual offending