How does it work?

The Flag System uses six criteria for identifying sexual behaviour, four categories (flags) for gradations (green, yellow, red and black), a developmental chart with gradations of sexual behaviour, and a number of cards with situation drawings and the recommended educational responses.

With the help of the Flag System professionals are able to correctly assess acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviour in children and young people aged 0-18 years. And to give an appropriate response to this behaviour, based on healthy sexual development. 

1. Guidelines for identifying sexual behaviour

  • The behaviour is judged, not the person (child or youth) themselves.
  • The starting point in your assessment is the behaviour of the person who initiated the behaviour and/or is the most responsible. This can be the oldest, or most intelligent, or most active person. This also applies to sexual behaviour between two children or adolescents.

2. Assess the different criteria

  • Assess the different criteria one by one and determine whether they are met or not (+, +/-, - or --). Discuss with co-workers. This will help you to create an objective view.

3. Assess the flag

  • If all the criteria are assessed as OK (+), a green flag applies. If one of the criteria is not okay, there is no green flag.
  • The manner of sexual coercion determines the colour of the flag: yellow, red or black. The degree of damage for the victim is mostly determined by a negative score on the criteria ‘consent’, ‘voluntary engagement’ and ‘equality’. When one of the first three criteria clearly has not been met, we consider this to be a situation of abusive behaviour (see the dark grey zone in the figure below). Discuss with co-workers.
Assessing the Flag
Assessing the Flag

4. Assess the developmental chart

  • You can use the developmental chart as a guideline when categorising.
  • Assess the developmental chart combined with the specific features per flag. The list consists of a table with examples of sexual activities and sexual behaviour under a particular flag. This can help you to correctly assess sexual behaviour at a certain age. The six criteria are used to describe acceptable and mild, serious or severely unacceptable sexual behaviour. The list is based on an overview of the available knowledge in scientific literature about sexual behaviour in children and youths.
For example
mother upset
A mother is upset, because she has unexpectedly found her 16-year-old son and his 17-year-old girlfriend together in bed. A packet of condoms can be seen on the bedside table.
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Green flag

There is clear mutual consent. Both the boy and the girl are smiling and are experiencing pleasure. Both parties are experiencing their sexual behaviour voluntarily. Nowhere on the drawing can you detect any signs of coercion. Both partners are equal. The behaviour is age-appropriate: 50% of under 18-year-olds has already had sexual intercourse. The torn condom packet is a pointer to the importance that these young people attach to safe sex and that they are taking responsibility. The behaviour is appropriate within the context: the sexual act takes place in the privacy of the bedroom.

Specifics in real life

The standard assessment doesn’t always take into account specific situations or vulnerable developmental factors. If this causes behaviour to become ‘more dangerous’ or to have ‘more risks involved’, this will change the flag at the most by one colour; e.g., a yellow flag turns red, or a green flag turns yellow.

In our example: A mother is extremely upset, because she has unexpectedly found her 16-year-old son and his 17-year-old girlfriend together in bed. A packet of condoms can be seen on the bedside table. This situation is given a green flag, if all criteria are in order. If one of the adolescents has difficulty setting boundaries due to (for example) a traumatic past, this situation could become ‘more dangerous’ and therefore be assessed with a yellow flag.

Problematic behaviour

Behaviour can be problematic in several ways. It’s considered to be more severe when:

  • The behaviour has occurred repeatedly after an adequate response has been given.
  • The behaviour took place over an extended period of time.
  • The sexual nature was intrusive (e.g. penetration).
  • The victim was younger or more vulnerable than the perpetrator.
  • There are more fearful and negative attributions.
  • There was a considerable difference in power between the perpetrator(s) and the victims, and force has been used.
  • There has been a severe violation of the norm.
  • And/or the behaviour has several adverse effects for the victim or the perpetrator.