Underage sexual activity
The legal age of consent is 16. Child protection procedures may also be used in the case of those aged up to age 18 who are under a supervision order from the local authority. Sexual relationships between a young person under 18 and an adult in a position of trust, should be regarded as both an offence and a child protection issue.
Approximately one third of young people engage in a range of sexual activity before the age of 16. The reasons behind this behaviour vary considerably. In some cases, the activity will be wholly consensual; in others it will happen in response to peer pressure or as a result of abuse or exploitation. Young people who are sexually active will therefore, have different needs, so services and practitioners must provide a range of responses.
If sexual activity involves a “younger child”, i.e. under the age of 13, this is automatically a serious child protection concern. (Section 19 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009)
Consensual sex between “young people”, i.e. 13 to 15 years of age, is unlawful but it does not follow that every case present’s child protection concerns and it is important that a proportionate response is made. If there are no child protection concerns, there may still be needs to be addressed either on a single agency or multi-agency basis.
However, child protection measures must be instigated:
- if the child is, or is believed to be, sexually active and is 12 years or under;
- if the young person is currently 13 or over but sexual activity took place when they were 12 or under; and
- where the ‘other person’ is in a position of trust in relation to the young person.
When a practitioner becomes aware that a young person is sexually active or is likely to become sexually active, they should undertake an assessment of risks and needs so that the appropriate response can be provided. The practitioner has a duty of care to ensure that the young person’s health and emotional needs are addressed and to assess whether the sexual activity is consensual, abusive or exploitative and a professional judgement made regarding action to be taken and support to be given.
Practitioners must follow the Fife Multi Agency Underage Sexual Activity Protocol and undertake a risk assessment for child protection issues to manage associated health issues regardless of whether the situation warrants immediate child protection investigation. Practitioners not confident to discuss associated health issues should refer the young person to a relevant health service, as described, where such an assessment can be made.
A copy of the Fife Multi Agency Underage Sexual Activity Protocol 2016 is available at the link below.