Strengthening Schools’ Responses to Students’ Harmful Sexual Behaviors: A Scoping Review

Publication Name

Trauma, Violence, and Abuse


Research into harmful sexual behavior (HSB) by children and young people under the age of 18 has grown in recent years. A key concern emerging is the high prevalence of HSB in school settings. Although teachers are increasingly aware of HSB, their provision of effective responses has remained a major challenge. While progress has been made by providing teachers with best practice models and tools, little is known about what facilitates and hinders their application of these in practice. This scoping review sought to address the question: “What are the barriers and enablers for teachers in responding effectively to HSB?” Eight international databases and one search engine were employed to identify relevant academic and gray literature. The inclusion criteria comprised all study types, published in the past two decades, and focused on teachers’ knowledge, experiences, and responses to HSB. Twenty-five publications met the inclusion criteria. Thematic analysis identified that minimization of HSB, harmful social norms, and inadequate support from external agencies were major barriers. These barriers could be mitigated by adopting a whole-school approach and establishing proactive partnerships with parents and external agencise, along with offering alternative pathways to safety. The findings of this review highlighted the importance of addressing the full continuum of HSB through early, secondary, or tertiary interventions, and sharpening the focus of respectful relationships education to transform gender relations in classrooms and the workplace. Further research is needed to explore schools’ responses to specific populations, including those with disabilities and females.

Open Access Status

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