Are we to soft on young people exhibiting sexualised behaviours: Youth work dilemma.

Today I was speaking with a group of people from within the education and human services sector about working with young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviours. What we mean here is young people aged over 10 and under 16 who sexually abuse others. When having this discussion it became apparent that there were two different opinions in the room. The Education view was to intervene early and deal decisively with the behaviours at the earliest point possible. The human services view was to deal with the behaviours only when they became problematic.
One view was early intervention and preventative. The other was critical intervention. As someone who has worked in the human services I struggled with the heavy handed approach of the education  sector. One case they spoke of had a child suspended after rubbing himself against a fellow classmate. The human services also struggled with this. They commented that this would not even be an issue that they would look at.
After listening to this discussion I started to think that perhaps we are allowing young people to exhibit sexual behaviours to  early. When children under 10 are regularly having sex and children even younger are experimenting with their bodies and each other have we as a society already lost the battle? Young people by nature will experiment with their sexuality, but are we as youth workers to soft on them when they exhibit inappropriate behaviours?

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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  1. Certainly an important issue, Aaron, but before discussing whether we are too ‘soft’ we will have to unravel what is meant by sexual abuse, sexualised behaviours, inappropriate behaviours. For example we might want to question sexualised behaviour, but such behaviour cannot be necessarily defined as abusive. For my part across 40 years I’ve experienced youth work as largely afraid of sexuality, only comfortable when issuing dire warnings. This said there are notable exceptions in the UK such as the work with LGBT young people, which in itself raises another level of complication. At least some within our work would see any behaviour outside of heterosexuality as inappropriate, whatever the age.

  2. I agree Tony. Just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the blog. The issue of youth workers and young people exploring sexuality is a sensitive issue at the best of times.As you rightly point out there are a nummber of differing points of view as to what is “normal” behaviour.

    Over the past number of months i have seen an increase in discussions about how young people are becoming more sexualised. Personally i do not think they are. but if they are should we not be weighing in on the subject????

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