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Posted in General by SaratogaCFF on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm
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Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?

By: Kelly Daugherty, LCSW-R, GC-C

With school being back in session, children are making new friends in their classrooms. This may mean new play dates, sleep overs, etc and meeting new parents. With that being said I think it is a good time for parents to review body safety rules with your children. So much of child sex abuse prevention is targeted at teaching kids what to do if an adult touches them in a way that is uncomfortable, but prevention also has to include what to do if a peer tries to do something to them. The reality is that over a third of all child sexual abuse is committed by someone under the age of 18. In 2015 our Child Advocacy Center which is for only Saratoga County had 31 interviews with children who were sexually abused by their peers. And this number doesn’t include all of the children that have been sexually abused by peers that have not told anyone. Studies show that in as many as nine out of 10 cases, kids don’t tell anyone when they are being sexually abused. This blog will explain what is normal sexual curiosity in children, when a parent should be concerned, why children sexually abuse other children and how to prevent child sexual abuse.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between normal curiosity in children and potentially abusive behaviors. Children have different understanding about their bodies and sexuality and this could be impacted because of their developmental age, whether the child has a disability or developmental challenge or because they have older siblings.

Most children will engage in forms of sexual exploration with children of similar size, social status or power. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Most sexual play is an expression of children’s natural curiosity and should not be a cause for concern or alarm. In general, “typical” childhood sexual play and exploration:

  • Occurs between children who play together regularly and know each other well
  • Occurs between children of the same general age and physical size
  • Is spontaneous and unplanned
  • Is infrequent
  • Is voluntary (the children agreed to the behavior, none of the involved children seem uncomfortable or upset)
  • Is easily diverted when parents tell children to stop and explain privacy rules

Common Sexual Behaviors in Children from the Sexual Development and Behavior in Children from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Age Uncommon/Problematic Behaviors
Preschool children (less than 4 years) ·       Exploring and touching private parts, in public and in private

·       Rubbing private parts (with hand or against objects) Showing private parts to others

·       Trying to touch mother’s or other women’s breasts

·       Removing clothes and wanting to be naked

·       Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing (such as in the bathroom)

·       Asking questions about their own—and others’—bodies and bodily functions

·       Talking to children their own age about bodily functions such as “poop” and “pee”

Young Children (approximately 4-6 years) ·       Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), occasionally in the presence of others

·       Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing

·       Mimicking dating behavior (such as kissing, or holding hands)

·       Talking about private parts and using “naughty” words, even when they don’t understand the meaning

·       Exploring private parts with children their own age (such as “playing doctor”, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” etc.)

School-Aged Children (approximately 7-12 years) ·       Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), usually in private

·       Playing games with children their own age that involve sexual behavior (such as “truth or dare”, “playing family,” or “boyfriend/girlfriend”)

·       Attempting to see other people naked or undressing

·       Looking at pictures of naked or partially naked people

·       Viewing/listening to sexual content in media (television, movies, games, the Internet, music, etc.)

·       Wanting more privacy (for example, not wanting to undress in front of other people) and being reluctant to talk to adults about sexual issues

·       Beginnings of sexual attraction to/interest in peers


So when should a parent be concerned?

These may be concerns if you see your child doing any of the following according to the NCTSN:

  • Is clearly beyond the child’s developmental stage (for example, a three-year-old attempting to kiss an adult’s genitals)
  • Involves threats, force, or aggression
  • Involves children of widely different ages or abilities (such as a 12-year-old “playing doctor” with a four-year-old)
  • Provokes strong emotional reactions in the child—such as anger or anxiety
  • The inability to control inappropriate sexual behaviors involving other children after being told to stop.
  • Taking younger children to “secret” places or hideaways to play “special” undressing or touching games

Why does a child sexually abuse other children?

The reasons can be varied and are not always obvious. Some children have been sexually abused by an adult or peer, others have witnessed violence in their home and others may have been exposed to sexually explicit material via video games, movies or internet materials including pornography that may be confusing to them. Some children act out on an impulse not understanding the harm it may do. The fact is that children that abuse as peers and don’t get help are more likely to abuse children as adults.

So what should you teach your children to prevent possible sexual abuse?

  • Communication is key! Talking with your child about healthy sexual activity may feel uncomfortable, but it is important to have conversations about sexuality and from early on in your child’s life. Don’t allow your child to be educated about sex from their peers, tv or other media sources. When you talk with your child honestly about sexual issues they are given the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe and to make good decisions. Also educate them about what is abusive sexual behavior.
  • Encourage children to respect themselves and others.
  • Educate them about secrets and which secrets should never be kept.
  • Teach your child that they have the right to say no and that they need to accept no from others.
  • Provide close supervision of your children especially when they have friends over
  • Provide clear, positive messages about modesty, boundaries and privacy.
  • Educate your children on the accurate names of boys and girls private parts
  • Educate them about body safety rules:
    • We keep private parts covered
    • We do not show other children our private body parts
    • We don’t touch other children’s private parts
    • That boys and girls bodies change as they get older
    • It may feel good to touch our own private body parts, but it should be done in private
  • Talk to your child about what to do if someone tries to touch them inappropriately or shows them pornographic images. Teach them to say No, Get Away and Tell Someone.
  • Identify safe, trusted adults they can tell if someone touches them or asks them to do something inappropriate.
  • Control media exposure. Limit which apps they have on their electronic devices. Make use of parental controls on their devices. Ask someone you may know if you don’t know how to set up these parental controls. Let them know your expectations about using social media, cell phones and electronic devices and teach them to make safe choices.
  • Talk with teens about the dangers and consequences of sexting and sending and/or receiving naked pictures of peers. For more information go to http://www.netsmartz.org/Parents
  • Have a code word with your child that they can call you and say which lets you know they want to come home.
  • Make sure your child knows your phone number.

If a child confides in you about sexual abuse:

  1. Believe them
  2. Be calm and supportive
  3. Limit questions to: Who, What, When, Where
  4. Call the child abuse hotline in NY at 1-800-342-3720 or contact your local law enforcement department

For More Information: