Age difference

Q - One part of the site says that an age gap of around five years is often taken as a rule of thumb for raising concerns of abuse, but another part suggests that there could be a criminal investigation in the case of a 16 or 17-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old partner. Isn’t this contradictory?

A - This guidance is about reaching decisions that are in the best interests of the child. It is usually not in the best interests of the child for consenting sex between similarly-aged young people (quite a common occurrence) to be reported to the police. These issues are normally dealt with without police involvement.

The 5-year age gap refers to one factor which may lead practitioners to have some concern that the young person may be being sexually abused.

The part which refers to criminal investigations simply sets out Northern Constabulary’s position in relation to the small minority of such cases reported to them.

Young people's rights to confidentiality (see Sex, young people and the law)

Q - Are adults and children entitled to the same level of confidentiality?

A - Yes, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child both make it clear that children and young people have exactly the same entitlement to confidentiality as adults.

Q - Can I ever breach a child or young person’s confidentiality?

A - Yes, you can breach a child’s or young person’s confidentiality but only where you believe (s)he (or someone else) is at risk of harm and where breaching their confidentiality is a proportionate way of addressing that risk (see Sex, young people and the law)

Q - If I know a young person’s having sex, should I tell his/her parents?

A - No. Children and young people are legally entitled to confidentiality, even from their parents (see Sex, young people and the law). If you are satisfied the child or young person is not at risk of harm, you should maintain their confidentiality while ensuring they receive the services they need. If you are concerned that a young person may be at risk of harm you should discuss this with the designated person for Child Protection within your organisation (see Is it consensual, is it abuse)

Can I be prosecuted?

Q - If I give a young person advice or support or (for instance) provide them with condoms knowing that they intend to have sex, could I be prosecuted for helping them to have sex (which is illegal)?

A - Not so long as you are providing support to try to stop them getting pregnant, getting an STI, to keep them safe, support their emotional wellbeing or provide appropriate sex education. You could only be prosecuted if you were supporting them for your own sexual gratification, if you were trying to humiliate them or if you were trying to actively encourage them to have sex. Health staff should continue to follow the Fraser Guidelines.

Reporting to the police

Q - But sexual intercourse is illegal under the age of 16. That means I have to report it to the police, doesn’t it?

A - No, it doesn’t. There is no requirement for you to report underage sex to the police. If you are concerned that a young person may be at risk of harm you should discuss this with the designated person for Child Protection within your organisation.