From Enough Abuse Campaign <[email protected]>
Subject Conversation #5: Sexual Behaviors of Children
Date September 5, 2019 4:29 PM
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This is the 5th of

10 conversations

about preventing

child sexual abuse.

Next Conversation:

#6 Responding to Sexual Behaviors of Children: Build Your Skills to Respond

Reporting suspected child sexual abuse is everyone's responsibility - whether a
mandated reporter or private citizen. If you suspect a child has been sexually
abused, contact your local child protective services. To locate the child
protective services reporting number in your state, as well as other resources,
call Childhelp at


Thank you for your commitment to

protecting children.


© 2011, Massachusetts Citizens for Children Inc.

Permission to copy, disseminate or otherwise use information from this report is
granted as long as Enough Abuse Campaign/Massachusetts Citizens for Children is
identified as the source.

Parents and professionals who work with children are aware that most children,
at various ages and stages of their development, are involved in behaviors that
explore their bodies and their sexuality. This is normal and a healthy part of
growing up.

Some sexual behaviors between and among children, however, are inappropriate,
coercive, abusive, or illegal and should be stopped. In fact, according to the
U.S. Department of Justice, 40% or more of cases of child sexual abuse involve
children or teens who sexually offend against their peers or younger children.

This is new information for most people and can seem quite alarming. However,
experts believe this gives parents and the professionals who supervise children
and youth an important prevention opportunity. By being vigilant and learning
how to identify and respond to these behaviors early on, adults can actually
help prevent the future abuse of children and reduce the likelihood that a child
will grow up to be a sexually abusive adult.

In fact, the Enough Abuse Campaign’s two main goals are to prevent adults from
sexually abusing children today, and to prevent children from developing
sexually abusive behaviors in the future. As we learned in Conversation #2,
most adult abusers report having committed their first act of sexual abuse
before the age of 18. Keeping this fact in mind it's clear that if we focus our
efforts only on adults after they’ve abused we will never reach our vision of a
sexual abuse free society.

Typical or Problematic?

Because some sexual behaviors of children are normal, and are in fact expected,
at different ages and stages of child development, parents, child care
professionals, educators and other youth-serving professionals need to learn how
to tell these typical behaviors from those that might actually cause a problem
for the child or other children. Here are some tips to help you better learn the

Obvious Differences:

A sexual behavior is considered problematic and may be abusive if there is a
difference in power or authority in the relationship between the participants.
Sometimes, the difference in power or authority is obvious, for example, when
there is a difference in:
* Age - one child is 3 or more years older than the other.
* Size - one child is physically larger, or one is small for his/her age.
* Strength - one child is physically strong, or the other slight.
* Mental and/or Physical disability - children with "special needs", physical,
developmental, and/or mental disabilites are at a higher risk for sexual abuse.

Subtle differences:

Sometimes the differences in power or authority among children are not always
obvious to adults. When evaluating the sexual interactions of children, it is
important for adults to understand the ways children think about themselves in
relation to their peers and older children. Some of the factors that can greatly
influence children’s behaviors can be more subtle, for example, when there is a
difference in:
* Popularity - one child’s popularity gives him influence over others.
* Self-image - one child has low-self esteem and little confidence.

Temporary differences:

In addition to these obvious and subtle differences, there are also temporary
differences in power or authority that can result from the actions of adults or
through child play. For example, when:
* An older child is put in charge of another child, such as when babysitting;
* Children are playing a game where someone is made the “king” or the

You walk in the room to find your child and two friends with their pants down,
showing each other their genitals. What if …
* The children are about the same age and developmental stage and they giggle
and whisper when they are discovered.

* One of the children is developmentally several years younger than the other
two. The younger child appears relieved when he/she sees you come in the room
and seems confused by what is happening.

1. If you suspect the behaviors you have seen are the typical behaviors of
children who are exploring their bodies and their sexuality, don’t panic. Calmly
interrupt the behavior, and redirect the children to another activity. You may
also want to speak privately to your child later about the behavior and discuss
your family’s rules or beliefs about it. It is important to stay calm and not
to confront your child in an angry or shaming way.

2. If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, contact your local child
protective services. To locate the child protective services reporting number in
your state, as well as access other resources, call Childhelp at 800-4-A-CHILD.

3. If you are unsure about what you would do, you’re not alone. Most parents
and many professionals have not been trained to handle these situations. In
Conversation # 6, we will discuss specific things you can do and say that will
give you the confidence to address both typical and problematic situations with
confidence should they come up.

4. Check out the event section of The Enough Abuse Campaign website to learn
about free workshops in your community for parents and professionals on this
topic. If your community is not yet an Enough Abuse Campaign site and you wish
to help organize such a workshop, contact us at [email protected]


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