This may be one of the biggest reality-checking curveballs regarding child sexual abuse: Who would have ever thought that up to 40% of abusers were older or more powerful children?

  • Generally, an age difference of 3 years or more is enough for the older child to be aware that what he/she is doing is wrong.
  • A larger child that can overpower a child smaller than them.
  • A more knowledgeable child that exploits the naivete of a less-knowledgeable child.
  • A child that has experienced or witnessed abuse and resorts to abuse as a means of acting out.
  • Seven out of eight juvenile offenders are at least 12 years old, and 93% are boys. (Crimes Against Children Research Center, UNH, 2010)

What brings a child to abuse another child? 
Parents often wish to deny that their children will ever have sensual/sexual tendencies, even as young as toddlers. As they mature and their hormones increase these feelings of sexuality, it is important that we educate children how to take responsibility for their sexuality and what is the right and wrong way to harness it. The majority of children are now exposed to pornography – willingly or unwillingly by the age of 13. The content of the pornography that is available can significantly impact a child’s sexual tendencies.
(To read more on the impact of pornography and sexual development, click here for an article by Dr. Janet Rosenzweig.)

  • Curiosity Gone Too Far

If children are not properly educated and guided to understand and take responsibility for their own sexuality they are at increased risk to exploit a younger or more naive child to explore/act on their sexuality.

Early exposure to pornography – whether shown intentionally by a peer/adult (which may qualify as sexual abuse), or unintentionally via unsupervised/unrestricted access to the internet or pornographic materials (magazines/videos) may cause children to explore sexuality unhealthily on their own.

Children that do understand, to a uncertain extent, that sexual interaction is wrong but don’t fully grasp the seriousness or potential impact of abuse, may use bribery, peer-pressure, tricks, or games as a way to convince another child to participate.

  • Children That Have Experienced Sexual Abuse

Children that have previously experienced sexual abuse, especially from a young age, may struggle to cope with their emotions regarding their own abuse, and also may struggle with sexual urges. Children that have been sexually abused have been known to masturbate compulsively and act out on other children in ways that they themselves have been molested. Although the abuse by the juvenile in such cases is not necessarily intentional, it still has an abusive effect on the child they are victimizing.

  • Children that Aggressively Abuse

A significant portion of reported juvenile offenders were also abused – sexually or physically, or may have witnessed domestic abuse. Some children, who may often show aggressive or abusive behavior toward others, will use physical force to abuse another child, using their size and strength to overpower the victim. The abuser clearly knows what they are doing is wrong. This is not about sexual curiosity – it is about control & domination.

  • Sexual Deviancy

Some children may exhibit signs of sex addiction and interest in unhealthy sexual activity. Such juvenile offenders, even with treatment, may develop into adult predatory offenders. Access to pornography, in such cases is often contributed to exacerbating the obsession and scope of perversion.

  • Peer on Peer Abuse – Dating, Hazing, and “Pranks” 

With the bombardment of sexuality on TV, in music videos, in song lyrics, and access to pornography online – even in smart phone Apps, there is a growing opinion within society that sex is a casual interaction – often involving domination by one party. Young egocentric teens, may fail to see their actions as “rape” – “no” may not mean “no” to them, and silence may be misinterpreted as consent.

Occasionally we will hear of hazing or “pranks” involving a group of teens violating and exploiting another teen. Their motivation may not be sexual gratification, but rather to embarrass or “initiate” a freshman teammate. In the Steubenville Ohio case, fellow students shared images of a 16 year old girl being abused. People ask why kids would even photograph such an act & then share it on social media. The truth may be that they don’t fully recognize sexual abuse as being abusive. While the intent is not self-gratification, the act is still one of violence and the effect on the child victim is the same.



Sections on this page have been adapted from TheMamaBearEffect.



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