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Handling child-on-child sexual misconduct

By Theresa Lynn Sidebotham for THE CHRISTIAN POST

In many ways, inappropriate behavior between children is more of a common danger than abuse of children by adults. This can look like an older child exploiting a younger child, or children engaging in misconduct that may or may not be consensual but is certainly harmful. Child-on-child misconduct can take place at school, at church, and in the home. Cases that involve incest are some of the most complex.

If there has been a report of sexual misconduct by children, some suggest that the parents handle it. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, child abuse reporting laws may be triggered. Second, unless they are experts, most parents are not equipped to deal well with child-on-child abuse without outside help. The common response to “talk” to the offending child and “explain” that the behavior is bad does not usually “solve the problem.” Instead, what often happens in that case is the abuse stops temporarily. But it may go underground. Or the abuse may surface in a much more serious or addictive form sometime later. Because of this, the children involved, both the perpetrator and the victim, will need a professional to interview them and professional care, such as specialized counseling. If an untrained person discusses situations like these with children, it may cause significant harm to the child.

A ministry will first need to consider, maybe with legal counsel, whether a report is required and would help the children involved. If a report is needed, it is best if the parents can make the report together with the organization. A safety plan should be put in place immediately to protect children and not allow any unsafe access. A safety plan can be as simple as suspending a child from Sunday School or as complex as a parent moving out with one child to separate siblings. If Child Protective Services (CPS) believes the children involved are safe, it is less likely to take drastic action like removing children from the home. Remember, even if the parents don’t want to report, other adults must follow the law.

Child-on-child abuse is difficult to address, but the good news is that if the children involved receive prompt therapy and active treatment, both the perpetrator and the victim can avoid life-long trauma. Even for juvenile sex offenders, excellent specific treatment exists, and the prognosis is hopeful. Remember, if juvenile charges are filed, parents need to work with a knowledgeable attorney…

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