When Children Sexually Abuse Other Children

Recently the media exposed sexual abuse that occurred in the Duggar family, famous for their TLC show 19 Kids and Counting. Their oldest son, Josh, inappropriately touched four of his younger sisters and a family friend in 2002 and 2003. The media reports that Josh, age 12-14 during this time, went into his sisters' rooms in the night and touched them "inappropriately" both over and under their clothing and blankets while they were sleeping.

While personal definitions may vary wildly, the legal and clinical definition of sexual assault is a sexual act that is performed or experienced against a person's will. This act can involve penetration or not. Unwanted touching, fondling, or kissing or other acts the survivor is forced to participate, view, or experience are all considered sexual assault. Sexual assault is a violent crime that involves power, aggression, and control. Sexual assault can be perpetrated by a child on another child. It can also be perpetrated against a person who, due to the effects of sleep, drug, age, or disability, is not aware of what happened or that it happened at all. While STSM fiercely guards the confidentiality of survivors, we can tell you that such acts are perpetrated in the Midlands with surprising frequency, and that the level of trauma experienced by a person who was not aware of what was happening at the time is frequently just as if not more severe than a person who was conscious throughout the assault.

Children, especially younger age groups, sometimes participate in sexual behavior because they are curious and do not know that it can be abuse. According to John and Allison Caffaro, authors of Sibling Abuse Trauma, behavior that is not age appropriate, not transitory, and not motivated by mutually appropriate curiosity is sexual assault. Sexual assault can also be perpetrated when the perpetrator has power over the victim by authority, intellectual ability, or age difference.

Regardless of whether or not you feel that there might have been inappropriate behavior between children, it is important to have open conversation with children about what is appropriate and what is not. Take every opportunity to teach them about boundaries, privacy, respect, and consent. If you feel that sexual abuse between children has occurred, the children should immediately be separated and the abuse should be reported to law enforcement. Both the victim and the perpetrator should seek professional treatment from counselors trained in working with child sexual abuse. Although STSM can only provide counseling to survivors beginning at age 12 and does not serve perpetrators, we have connections with trained professionals throughout the Midlands and beyond and can refer appropriately.

Helping professionals--including counselors, socials workers, teachers, childcare providers, healthcare providers, and many others--are mandated and required by law to report suspected child sexual abuse to law enforcement and to refer survivors and perpetrators for treatment by mental health professionals with specific training in treatment of survivors and/or perpetrators of sexual abuse. However, we here at STSM believe that we cannot end sexual violence in the Midlands without all of us taking responsibility for the protection of our community's children. If you suspect that a child in your life has been sexually abused, please report this to law enforcement or call 803-771-RAPE (7273) so that we can help you report and get help.

Remember: STSM has training available! We offer Darkness to Light, a training series about addressing and preventing child sexual abuse that can be offered to groups of concerned adults in any setting. The Youth Violence Prevention curriculum, in which students receive education about consent, violence in the media and society, boundary-setting, and healthy relationships in a safe environment that allows them to examine their world, interactions, and relationships, is offered currently in many middle and high schools around the Midlands and can be presented to any group of youth. STSM also offers community presentations on a variety of subjects in an effort to provide our community with the information it needs to prevent and address sexual assault and abuse. Please contact Community Education Director Kayce Singletary at ced@www.stsm.org for more information about the presentations and courses offered by STSM.

Talking about sexual abuse perpetrated by or on children and adolescents is not always easy or pleasant. Keeping the conversation open and continuous--rather than only discussing it when pop culture brings it to our attention--will help us teach children about healthy boundaries and protect them.