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Sexual abuse of kids by kids

We’ve gone way beyond warning our kids about “stranger danger,” recognizing that 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know the offender. What is less recognized is that 36 percent of the time sexual offenses against kids are committed by other children according to the December 2009 Juvenile Justice Bulletin.

  • According to the research, juvenile sexual offenders are overwhelming committed by males (93 percent) who offend against family members (25 percent) or acquaintances (63 percent).
  • Youth offenders are more likely than adult offenders to commit sexual acts against other boys (25 percent), unlike their adult counterparts who target male victims only 13 percent of the time.
  • Fondling (49 percent) and rape (24 percent) are the most common offenses, typically occurring 43 percent of the time in the afternoon hours (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.) in a home environment (69 percent).
  • Child sexual offenders are typically teenagers, with 38 percent between 12 and 14 years of age, and 46 percent between the ages of 15 and 17.

Offenders are a diverse group of kids, so we need to be careful about inappropriately labeling them all as pedophiles. Some of these teens sexually act out with other kids in an impulsive manner, taking advantage of a vulnerable or emotionally needy child. In other instances, sexual offenses represent a long-term pattern of aggressive and inappropriate behavior. However,   unlike the popular stereotype, the good news is that the vast majority (85-95 percent ) of these youth have no reports of further sex crimes.

Not every sexual encounter between children is a criminal offense, and clinicians and law enforcement agencies are challenged at times with distinguishing between normal and deviant behavior. Sexual activity, exploration, and play among children at various stages in their development are neither uncommon nor criminal. Concerns are raised when overt force or subtle manipulation is used to solicit sexual activity, or when there is a significant age difference between the youth.

I’ve treated a number of adolescent sexual offenders who engaged in what they reported were “consensual” sexual activities with younger kids. However, such sexual behaviors were more the result of manipulation and emotional coercion rather than informed participation by the younger victim. From a psychological and developmental perspective, a young child cannot give voluntary consent to a sexual act with an older person, since the child has no real appreciation of the nature or consequences of the activity.

This issue becomes more problematic when kids (typically teenagers) are involved in sexual activities with someone just a few years younger. While physical force may not be used, the younger children may be manipulated, threatened, or shamed into doing something they didn’t want to do. From a psychological perspective, these sexual events can be just as harmful as crimes where overt force is used. Whether illegal or inappropriate (or both) these sexual incidents have long-term detrimental consequences for offender and victim.

Parents are not helpless in these situations. Next week’s column will address what you can do to prevent your child from being a victim of sexual abuse. Part three of this series will discuss how to prevent your teen from being a sexual offender.

For more information:

Dr. Ramey discusses How to prevent another Penn State

CARE House – Child Advocacy Center


  1. Reply
    Dr. Ramey February 6, 2012

    Carly, thanks for your comment. I also appreciated the link to the Illuminate article.
    It is difficult to balance the need with protecting our children with concerns about making them anxious about this sensitivie issue. Parents are doing a much better job in speaking with their children about sexual abuse, but need to be very specific in focusing more on friends and other kids rather than “stranger danger.”

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