"Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children? - Stop It Now!"


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351 Pleasant St., Suite B-319
Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?
Northampton, MA 01060
Preventing sexual abuse among children and youth
351 Pleasant St, Suite B-319
Northhampton, MA 01060
To order additional copies, contact:
The Safer Society Press
P.O. Box 340
Brandon, VT 05733-0340
Design by JKG Group
© 2007 Stop It Now! All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from Stop It Now!
351 Pleasant St., Suite B-319
Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?
Northampton, MA 01060
Preventing sexual abuse among children and youth
351 Pleasant St, Suite B-319
Northhampton, MA 01060
To order additional copies, contact:
The Safer Society Press
P.O. Box 340
Brandon, VT 05733-0340
Design by JKG Group
© 2007 Stop It Now! All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from Stop It Now!
As parents and caregivers, we want to do all we can to
protect our children, while giving them the freedom
they need to develop and become healthy adults.
Sometimes, the world can feel full of risks, many of
them obvious, and others more confusing. In order
to strike the right balance between protection and
independence for our children, we adults need the
best possible information.
This guide is for everyone involved in bringing up
children. It explains that some children do sexually
abuse other children, describes how we can recognize
Our children are our future. We all have a
the warning signs, and outlines some actions we adults
responsibility to protect them. Take action
can take to prevent sexual abuse.
if you are worried that your child, or a child
you know, may be sexually hurting someone.
You are not alone. Help is available. Call the
Stop It Now!
Helpline at 1.888.PREVENT
to talk confidentially with professionals who
have experience working with individuals
and families with similar situations.
Special thanks to our colleagues at Stop It Now! UK & Ireland,
for permission to use copyrighted material.
This is the third edition of this brochure. The two previous versions were Do Children
Sexually Abuse Other Children? published by Stop It Now! in 1999 and Child’s Play? Preventing
Abuse Among Children and Young People published by Stop It Now! UK & Ireland in 2003.
DO ChIlDren SexuAlly
whAt IS heAlthy
AbuSe Other ChIlDren?
SexuAl DevelOpment?
“I didn’t have the words
Most people already are aware of the risk of sexual
Most adults understand that
questions. Adults can help children
abuse that some adults present to our children. There
children pass through different
be comfortable with their sexual
to tell my parents what
is growing understanding that the vast majority of
stages of development as they grow.
development and understand
was going on. I said I
children who are sexually abused, are abused by
Sometimes, adults have more difficulty
appropriate sexual boundaries,
didn’t want to be left
someone they know, and often trust. Unfortunately,
acknowledging that, from birth,
for example, adults can model
alone with kids. I wish
very few adults recognize that children and
children are sexual beings. Like other
appropriate, respectful behavior.
they had listened to me.”
adolescents also can present a risk to other children.
areas of a child’s development, it is
Children with disabilities or
In fact, over a third of all sexual abuse of children is
normal for children’s awareness and
An ADOleSCent wIth
developmental challenges benefit
committed by someone under the age of 18.
curiosity about their own sexual feelings
SexuAl behAvIOr
from special attention to their
to change as they pass from infancy into
This can be a difficult issue to address, partly because
safety. Depending on the nature of
childhood, and then through puberty to
it is often challenging for adults to think of the
their disability, they may develop at
children or adolescents we know as capable of sexually
different rates, which can make them
abusing others. Also, it is not always easy to tell the
Each child is an individual and
more vulnerable to being abused.
difference between natural sexual curiosity and
will develop in his or her own
They may also inadvertently harm
potentially abusive behaviors. Children, particularly
way. However, there is a generally
another child without understanding
younger children, may engage in inappropriate
accepted range of behaviors
the hurtful impact of their actions.
interactions without understanding the hurtful impact
linked to children’s changing age
For example, children with disabilities
it has on others. For this reason, it may be more
and developmental stages. These
sometimes behave sexually in ways
helpful to talk about a child’s sexually “harmful”
behaviors may include exploration
that are out of step with their age.
behavior rather than sexually “abusive” behavior.
with other children of similar power
Particular care may be needed to
or stature—by virtue of age, size,
help children understand their sexual
It is essential that all adults have the information
ability or social status. Sometimes, it
development and to ensure that these
needed to recognize potentially harmful activities at
can be difficult to tell the difference
children and their caregivers can
an early stage and to seek help so the behaviors can
between sexual exploration that is
communicate effectively about any
be stopped. Every adult who cares about children has
appropriate to a developmental stage
questions or worries they have.
an opportunity, as both teacher and role model, to
and interactions that are warning
show children how to interact without harming others,
It is important to recognize that, while
signs of harmful behavior.
either while they are still children, or later, as adults.
people from various backgrounds have
Adults have the added responsibility of ensuring that
Occasionally, adults may need to
different expectations about what
all children who have been involved in a harmful
set limits when children engage in
is acceptable behavior for children,
sexual situation, whatever their role, are given the
behaviors we consider inappropriate,
sexual abuse is present across all ethnic
help they need to live healthy productive lives.
even if the children may be unaware
groups, cultures and religious beliefs.
of potential harm. This is a chance
to talk with them about keeping
themselves and others safe, and to
let them know that you are someone
they can talk to when they have
whAt IS Age-ApprOprIAte
whAt IS SexuAlly
Or DevelOpmentAlly-expeCteD
hArmful behAvIOr?
SexuAl behAvIOr?
Sexually harmful behavior by children
While learning about their bodies
and pregnancy. Experimentation with
The chart shows some examples
and young people may range from
and sexuality, children may behave in
same-age children, often during games,
of common sexual behavior that
experimentation that has gone too far to
ways that seem out of sync with their
kissing, touching, exhibitionism and
we might anticipate seeing in our
serious sexual assault.
age or developmental stage. Many
role-playing. Private self stimulation.
children as they pass through
It is important for adults to recognize that
minor factors—for example, having an
different stages of development
Adult-like sexual
many children will engage in some forms
older sibling—may increase a child’s
from pre-school to adolescence.
interactions, discussing specific sexual
of sexual exploration with children of a
awareness of knowledge, attitudes
Remember that each child
acts or public self stimulation.
similar age, size, social status or power.
and behaviors of an older age group.
develops at his or her own pace.
Sometimes a child or young person may
After puberty begInS:
Usually, unexpected behavior can be
Not every child will show all these
engage in sexual play with a much younger
Increased curiosity about
redirected with a simple instruction.
behaviors at the same stages, or
or more vulnerable child, or use force,
sexual materials and information,
Of particular concern are behaviors
necessarily experience specific
tricks or bribery to involve someone in
questions about relationships and
involving another child, in which either
behaviors at all.
sexual activity. While such manipulation
sexual behavior, using sexual words
child seems unable to control the
The chart also describes kinds of
may be a cause for concern, it is critical
and discussing sexual acts, particularly
behavior after being asked to stop.
behavior that are less common
to realize that manipulation may not,
with peers. Increased experimenting
in a given developmental stage,
in itself, indicate a tendency toward
preschool (0 to 5 yrs.)
including open-mouthed kissing, body-
and which may give cause for
sexual aggression. Professional help and
rubbing, fondling. Masturbating in
Sexual language relating to
concern. If you feel uneasy or
advice is needed to determine the best
differences in body parts, bathroom talk,
have any questions or concerns
way to support a child in managing any
Consistent adult-like sexual
pregnancy and birth. Self stimulation
about a child you know, talk to
concerning impulses.
behavior, including oral/genital contact
at home and in public. Showing and
someone you trust, like a friend,
and intercourse. Masturbating in public.
Keep in mind:
looking at private body parts.
family member, your healthcare
provider, a counselor, or call the
Children as young as 4 or 5 may
Adolescence (13 to 16)
Discussion of specific
Stop It Now! Helpline at 1.888.
unknowingly engage in sexually harmful
sexual acts or explicit sexual language.
Questions about decision
behavior, although more often those who
Adult-like sexual contact with other
making, social relationships, and sexual
sexually harm children are adolescents.
customs. Masturbation in private.
For a more complete list or if you
Experimenting between adolescents of
Usually, but not always, the child or
have any question or concerns
School-Age Children (6 to 12 years)
the same age, including open-mouthed
young person causing the harm is older
about sexual behaviors of a
May include both pre-pubescent
kissing, fondling and body rubbing,
than the victim.
child in your life, please call the
children and children who have already
oral/genital contact. Also, voyeuristic
confidential, national toll-free
Often the child being harmed is
entered puberty, when hormonal
behaviors are common. Intercourse
Stop It Now! Helpline at 1.888.
uncomfortable or confused about what is
changes are likely to trigger an increase
occurs in approximately on third of this
happening, but may feel that he or she is
in sexual awareness and interest.
age group.
willingly involved or to blame for being
Masturbating in public and
in the situation.
Adapted from Wurtele, S.K. and Miller-Perrin,
sexual interest directed toward much
Questions about relationships
C.L. Preventing Sexual Abuse. University of
Many times, one or both children do not
younger children.
and sexual behavior, menstruation
Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NE. 1992.
understand that the behavior is harmful.
whAt AbOut SexuAlly
AbuSIve ImAgeS Of ChIlDren—
why DO SOme ChIlDren
ChIlD prOnOgrAphy?
SexuAlly hArm OtherS?
There is a growing problem of sexual images of
“The best way to keep
The reasons children sexually harm others are
children being available for viewing and downloading
complicated, varied and not always obvious. Some
your family safe is to
on the Internet. Adults need to supervise children’s
of them may have been emotionally, sexually or
educate yourself about
use of the Internet, provide children with clear
physically abused themselves, while others may have
child sexual abuse. The
information about our expectations and teach them
witnessed physical or emotional violence at home.
earlier we can see what is
Interactions involving
how to make safe choices.
Some may have come in contact with sexually explicit
both direct contact
happening, the earlier we
movies, video games, or materials that are confusing to
we must educate young people about the risks:
and non-touching
can do something to stop
them. In some instances, a child or adolescent may act
behaviors may cause
Viewing abusive images of children may make
on a passing impulse with no harmful intent, but may
the abuse.”
harm. Examples range
harmful sexual interactions with children seem
still cause harm to themselves or to other children.
from unwelcome
mOther Of An
normal or acceptable.
repeated touching,
ADOleSCent wIth
Whatever the reason, without help, some sexually-
Viewing sexually abusive images of children hurts
SexuAl behAvIOr
abusing youth will go on to abuse children as adults.
to brief touching
those children and others by creating a demand for
It is important to seek advice and help promptly
of genitals to actual
additional images.
intercourse, sexually-
whenever there is any concern or question about a
child or adolescent.
charged verbal or
Downloading child pornography is a criminal
emotional aggression,
photographing a child
in sexual poses or
We adults must also remain aware of the risks of
exposing a child to
developing technology and of how to access resources
hOw DO we reCOgnIze the wArnIng
sexual acts or images.
when a child does engage in harmful online activities.
Social networking sites, text messaging and photo-
SIgnS Of SexuAlly hArmful behAvIOr?
capable cell phones
are just a few examples
of evolving methods
One of the most difficult discoveries a
person and his or her family can make
of communication
parent can make is to learn that your
a real difference. Evidence shows that
that attract young
child may have sexually harmed or
the earlier children get help, the more
people, but also can
abused another child. Denial, shock
able they are to learn the skills they
create unanticipated
and anger are common reactions.
need to control their behavior. If you
vulnerabilities. For more
Because a quick and sensitive response
are in this situation, remember that you
information and links
can help diminish the harmful effects
are not alone. Many other parents who
about safe use of the
on the whole family, it is important
have been through similar experiences
Internet, visit the Stop
to get professional advice about what
found that by taking action the child
It Now! website: www.
to do as soon as you become aware of
and family got the help they needed
warning signs.
and were able to avoid future abuse.
The first step is to recognize the value
The good news is that positive,
of talking it over with someone else.
supportive help for the child or young
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