Appendix 1: Example of how to manage harmful sexual behaviour in primary school

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Tom (12) was impulsive, disruptive and had a lot of trouble regulating himself. After a while girls from the class began telling of how Tom had slapped them on the butt and touched their breasts. During games and activities where the students were in close contact, he often became intense and persisted with pushing and touching, and did not stop when other pupils asked him to. He had on several occasions put his hands down others’ pants and touched their genitals.

School staff viewed the behaviour as a result of having trouble with social skills and regulating emotions. The administration was contacted, and two adults who had a good relationship with Tom were, for a period, excused to follow him throughout the school day. They were also to hold conversations frequently, keep close supervision to prevent violations, as well as help Tom to regulate better and increase his social skills.

Through conversations he had with adults at school, it emerged that Tom himself thought what he did was funny, that the other pupils thought so too, and nobody needed to bother with anything. The adults still felt uncertain and were worried new and more serious violations would occur, so they contacted the regional consultation team. The team shared their concerns and advised the school to make concrete plans for safety and increased mastery.

The adults working closely with Tom spent a lot of time in dialogue with him, trying to give him insight into how the other pupils viewed his behaviour. The school arranged for his entire year to receive sex education on the topics of puberty, boundaries, “private areas” and what is, and is not, okay to do. Tom also had individual conversations on these topics, in addition to emotion recognition and regulation. An important part of these conversations became learning new strategies for managing different emotions. The school, in cooperation with Tom, drew up a safety plan. The plan described how an adult was to intervene and assist if situations occurred where Tom couldn’t regulate himself. The situations where the behaviour occurred were reviewed, and found to be transitional situations, recesses or typically unstructured lessons (e.g. physical education).

Step 1 of the plan was for the teacher to say: “Tom, stop”. (The use of the name was Tom’s own idea, ensuring he knew whom the teacher was speaking to.)

Step 2 was to be implemented if Tom did not stop after the reminder. The teacher would go over to him and put a hand on his shoulder (making sure Tom paid attention) before repeating the message.

Step 3 was to be implemented if step 2 had no effect. Here Tom would be led/accompanied by the teacher to get away from the situation. If this turned difficult, the other students would be led away instead.

Another part of the deal was for Tom to always be close enough he and the teacher could see each other, assuring Tom they were there to help if needed. It was imperative that Tom felt safe around and trusted the adult for this to work.

The school management was actively involved with the process at all times, contributing with – among other things – extra resources for individual follow-ups and training for the entire staff on harmful sexual behaviour in children.